Sudans restart talks amid bombing accusations

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South Sudan accused Sudan of launching fresh bombing raids on its territory casting a shadow over the resumption of talks to avoid a collapse into all-out war between the African oil-producers.

The reports, which could not be confirmed independently, came hours before the neighbours sat down to their first direct negotiations since a series of clashes broke out along their disputed border in April.

As officials gathered for the discussions in Ethiopia, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, information minister for newly-independent South Sudan, told reporters Sudanese war planes had continued bombing raids that started over the weekend, Reuters reports.
“Today the Sudan armed forces are still bombing in Warguet area (Northern Bahr el Ghazal),” he said in the southern capital Juba.
“Maybe they want to negotiate from a position of strength as they usually do. This is not the first time they have done it.”

Sudan’s army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid was not immediately available to comment, but the government routinely denies bombing the South.

South Sudan split away from Sudan in July last year without settling a string of bitter disputes over the position of their shared border, oil transit fees, the ownership if disputed territories and other issues.

Both countries’ oil-dependent economies have also suffered since the split. Adding to the gloom, the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday said Sudan’s economy faced “daunting” challenges and needed top bring in emergency measures to stabilise it.

Diplomats at the African Union-backed negotiations in Addis Ababa were not holding out much hope for a quick, comprehensive settlement.
“The main thing is that you are talking again, but expectations are very low … At best, they will discuss a roadmap,” said one western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Years of tortuous negotiations and huge international pressure have done little to wipe out the deep distrust between the two countries left by decades of conflict.

Past negotiations between Sudan and fighters in other parts of the country – including Darfur – have often been marked by reports of last minute fighting, as the sides try to maximise territorial gains.

Following pressure from the African Union (AU) and United Nations, both sides agreed to return to the negotiating table after the U.N. Security Council threatened the two with sanctions if they did not stop fighting and resume talks.

Juba’s top negotiator Pagan Amum, speaking at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, said Sudan had repeatedly violated the U.N. Security Council resolution.
“We have a large number of violations, particularly the continuation of bombing by air of South Sudan. It has continued up to today,” he said just before talks started.

Sudanese state media said Khartoum had completed its promised withdrawal from the disputed region of Abyei, which it seized a year ago after an attack on a convoy blamed by the United Nations on southern troops.

But Amum expressed doubts that Sudan will actually withdraw from the border region, rich in fertile grazing land.

Sudan has said it wants to make security a priority and accuses Juba of supporting rebels in Sudan’s borderlands. South Sudan denies the claims.

South Sudan shut down its entire output of 350,000 barrels a day in January to stop Khartoum taking some oil for what Sudan calls unpaid fees. Oil is the lifeblood of both economies.

Reports of attacks in the remote border regions are difficult to verify, though Reuters journalists have witnessed several bombing raids in the South since the country split in two.

South Sudanese overwhelmingly voted to split away from the north in a referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war between the two sides.

About 2 million people died in that conflict, fought over ideology, religion, ethnicity and oil.