Sudan and South Sudan on Thursday accused each other of incursions into disputed border areas, in a new setback to plans to secure their volatile boundary and resume cross-border oil flows.
The accusations come a day after Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said he was willing to meet his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir to try to move forward stalled talks to set up a demilitarized border zone.
The African neighbours agreed to end hostilities in September and to resume oil exports from South Sudan via the north after coming close to war in April, the worst violence since the South’s secession last year.
But neither has moved back its army from the border, a step both say is needed to resume oil exports from the landlocked South through the north. Both economies depend on oil.
South Sudan’s army spokesman Philip Aguer said Sudanese war planes had bombed the area of Kiir Adem, which lies inside a 14 mile-wide (22.5 km) strip of land known as the Mile 14 area and claimed by both countries.
“Five people were killed during the bombing yesterday,” he said, adding that all victims were civilians.
Sudan’s army in turn said in a statement that South Sudanese soldiers had laid a large number of landmines in Mile 14, after which clashes broke out between citizens and armed groups belonging to the South’s army.
Sudan has repeatedly denied South Sudan’s claims of launching air strikes.
In September, the rivals agreed to recognise administrative borders used by former colonial power Britain at independence in 1956 and to pull their armies back 10 km from the line. But the line’s exact position is disputed.
Mile 14 runs parallel to the south bank of the River Kiir, known as Bahr al Arab in the north. The United Nations mission in South Sudan says Kiir Adem lies north of the 1956 border and south of the Kiir river.
South Sudan had initially planned to resume exports by year-end after shutting down its output of 350,000 barrels a day in January after failing to agree on an export fee with Sudan.
The African Union, backed by Western powers, has urged Bashir and Kiir to meet as soon as possible to resolve their disputes.
South Sudan seceded in July last year after overwhelmingly voting for independence in a referendum promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war.