By TOM ODULA, Associated Press
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Sudan is bombing oil-rich regions of South Sudan in order to scare away American and Chinese investors, a South Sudan official said Monday, as U.S. President Barack Obama expressed concern about the growing tensions between the two countries.
South Sudan government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin said Sudan is bombarding disputed areas in South Sudan despite a Feb. 10 nonaggression and cooperation pact signed by both countries in African Union-led negotiations in Ethiopia.
"As we speak today they are continuing bombing villages," Benjamin said.
Sudan described as "false and unfounded" claims by South Sudan that Khartoum was attacking and occupying southern Sudan territories.
A statement issued by Sudan's government delegation to the talks to resolve disputes between the two countries in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, instead accused South Sudan of attacking a region in Sudan.
Sudan and South Sudan have previously blamed each other for starting the conflict in the disputed regions.
President Obama asked South Sudan President Salva Kiir in a telephone conversation to ensure that South Sudan's military exercises maximum restraint and is not involved in or supporting fighting along the border, according to a statement from the White House. Obama said it is important for the two sides to reach an agreement on oil.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the governments of Sudan and South Sudan "to immediately cease hostilities" and implement agreements already reached on security, border monitoring and the disputed border region of Abyei, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Ban called on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to meet with Kiir as soon as possible, Nesirky said.
A meeting scheduled between the two leaders for Tuesday was canceled by Sudan.
Benjamin said the despite the bombings South Sudan still would welcome al-Bashir to meet with Kiir.
Benjamin, who is also South Sudan's minister for information and broadcasting, linked the bombings in the Upper Nile, Unity and Western Bahr Al Ghazal states to South Sudan's shutting down of its oil sector earlier this year. Landlocked South Sudan shut down oil production in January, saying that its northern neighbor had stolen oil which was meant to be exported through Sudan.
Benjamin said since South Sudan stopped production, Sudan increased aerial bombardment of the disputed areas and organized ground attacks in late March which were repulsed by the South Sudanese troops.
He accused Sudan of trying to scare away investors, including American and Chinese companies, in the oil-rich regions where there are plans to build oil refineries which he said will be operational in six to seven months. The oil refineries will help South Sudan process some oil to help meet local demand, he said.
Echoing the words of South Sudan's president, Benjamin said South Sudan remains committed to peace and would fight back only to defend its territorial integrity.
"We will not be dragged into a senseless war," he said.
Benjamin also complained that the African Union is not doing a satisfactory job mediating talks with Sudan. South Sudan is disappointed by an AU report to the U.N. Security Council that Benjamin said portrayed his country as the aggressor in hostilities between the two countries. He suggested that a regional bloc known as IGAD take over.
The seven-nation IGAD — the Inter Governmental Authority for Development — negotiated the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a decades-long civil war between Sudan and South Sudan. That deal led to South Sudan's secession from Sudan last year.
Among the unresolved issues from the split is the demarcation of the border and an agreement to share oil revenue.
Benjamin said South Sudan shutdown its oil production because Sudan had stolen millions of barrels of oil and increased oil transit fee through its pipeline to $36 a barrel. Benjamin said it was better that South Sudan's oil stay in the ground.
Benjamin said that South Sudan will construct two pipelines — one to Kenya and one across Ethiopia into Djibouti. Benjamin said the South Sudan is also seeking international loans in order to fill in the budget deficit caused by the shutdown in oil production.
Associated Press write Mohamed Osman contributed to this report in Khartoum, Sudan.