Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said he would not recognise South Sudan as an independent state if it claimed the oil-producing Abyei region.
South Sudan voted in January to split from the north, formally ending decades of civil war. Bashir had said he would be the first to recognise the new nation. The separation is due to take place July 9.
“If there is any attempt to secede Abyei within the borders of the new state we will not recognise the new state,” Bashir told a crowd in the Southern Kordofan state, Reuters reports.
Abyei was due to vote in a simultaneous referendum in January on whether to join the north or south, but north-south disputes over who could vote derailed that ballot and talks over the status of the region have stalled.
The south’s draft constitution, seen by Reuters this week, laid a claim to Abyei.
The southern ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) rejected Bashir’s comments as “rubbish” aimed at undermining the 2005 peace agreement which called for a referendum in Abyei on whether to join the north or the south.
“If Khartoum is serious about recognising the south they should not find ways to go back on what they said and make the south a scapegoat for not settling Abyei,” SPLM Deputy Secretary General Anne Itto told Reuters.
“The referendum on Abyei did not happen because they did not want it,” she said, declining to comment on the south’s draft constitution.
Analysts fear Abyei has the potential to reignite the north-south conflict if it is left unresolved. Both sides have built up troops and heavy weapons in the underdeveloped region, according to satellite images and the United Nations.
Sudan’s north and south have fought for all but a few years since 1955 over oil, ethnicity, religion and ideology. The conflict claimed some 2 million lives and destabilised much of east Africa.
Southern leaders have accused Khartoum of mobilising Arab Misseriya nomads and militias in the contested Abyei border region. Washington and the International Criminal Court have accused Bashir of arming Arab militias to launch genocidal attacks in the country’s separate eight-year Darfur conflict.
Northern and southern leaders have also been making little progress in talks over a range of issues including how they will divide up debts and assets, and how the south might pay the north to transport oil after the split.