KHARTOUM (Reuters) - President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said Sudanese government forces were poised to attack a stronghold of armed rebels in Blue Nile state, and vowed not to negotiate with what he called mutineers, state news agency SUNA reported on Wednesday.
Tensions between Sudan’s army and groups allied to the ruling party in the newly established South Sudan, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), in the Blue Nile area turned into armed clashes earlier this month, with each side accusing the other of starting the fighting.
“President Omar al-Bashir declares that the armed forces will pray in al-Kurmuk soon,” SUNA said, meaning that his military intended to take the town near the Ethiopian border that is seen as an SPLM-North stronghold.
It said the president told a gathering in Al Qadarif state in eastern Sudan during a visit that the mutiny would be brought to an end and “those who committed crimes against citizens will be brought to account through the application of the law”.
“The government will not negotiate with outlaws living outside the country,” SUNA quoted Bashir as saying, adding that those who wanted peace should return home and seek change through normal channels.
The Washington-based Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), which monitors imagery gathered from space-based sources, said last week that Sudan has deployed at least 3,000 government troops on a road leading to Kurmuk.
Analysts say the fighting with the rebels in Blue Nile, along with separate clashes in South Kordofan state, risk drawing the newly independent South Sudan into a proxy war.
The Sudanese government has accused the south’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) of being behind the violence. The SPLM-North, the movement’s branch in Sudan, has blamed Khartoum.
Sudan and South Sudan signed a border security agreement on Sunday, taking a step towards improving ties after tensions over border violence and sharing oil revenues.
The SPLM’s northern wing, the SPLM-N, fought with the south before a 2005 peace deal that led to South Sudan’s independence in July. It has supporters in north Sudan, particularly the border areas.