NAIROBI/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - South Sudan and Sudan began talks on Monday aimed at easing military tensions, but both sides’ continued accusations of attacks by the other left little hope for a peaceful outcome.
The neighbours have fought repeatedly in the past few days along the poorly marked 1,800-km (1,200-mile) border, much of it poorly defined after the south split away in July under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
Western nations fear the border clashes could reignite a full-blown war between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist South, with rival claims on oil resources a key part of the conflict.
Diplomats expect no quick progress from the talks, in Addis Ababa, after Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir cancelled a summit with his southern counterpart Salva Kiir scheduled for this week.
South Sudan’s Information Minister told reporters in Nairobi the North had launched more attacks on southern oil fields.
“For the last month, the Republic of Sudan in Khartoum has been bombing mostly the Unity state and our oil fields. For the last month, they’ve been bombing villages and small towns and as we speak today they are still continuing bombing some of these areas,” Barnaba Marial Benjamin said.
“They are still continuing at random all over Unity State, of course the purpose also is (to) sabotage the investment in oil,” he said.
Sudan has denied the South’s allegations and accuses Juba of preventing the marking of the disputed border by laying claim to the large oil field, Heglig, the scene of fighting in the past few days. Khartoum accused Juba of attacking Heglig last week.
Maps issued by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in a 2009 ruling put Heglig town and oilfield north of the boundary, although southern officials still contest Khartoum’s claim.
Heglig is key to Sudan’s economy because it produces around half of its entire oil output after splitting from the South. Sudan lost three-quarters of its oil production when the South became independent.
“Heglig is not part of the conflict. We will not negotiate on Heglig, definitely, because it not an issue for negotiation,” Sudan’s Defence Minister Abdulrahim Mohamed Hussein told reporters in Addis Ababa.
He described Monday’s talks as a “good meeting.”
Apart from marking the border, the two sides also need to decide how much landlocked South Sudan must pay to export its crude oil through Sudan. Juba has shut down its entire oil production to stop Khartoum seizing oil as compensation for what Khartoum calls unpaid transit fees.
South Sudan has said it is prepared to pay up to $1 per barrel in transit fees - well below the $36 Benjamin said Khartoum has been demanding.