South Sudan on Tuesday said it was committed to peace deals signed with its former foe Sudan, a day after Sudanese President al-Bashir threatened to close oil pipelines ‘forever’. He accuses Juba of backing insurgents.
Juba has once again rejected allegations that it supports the rebels battling Sudanese forces in South Kordofan state. Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin insisted that the South Sudanese president "has said several times that we don't support any rebels in Sudan." Khartoum's renewed accusations have threatened to derail an African Union peace roadmap to normalize relations between the two former civil war foes.
Benjamin has criticized Bashir for making such a threat in public. "We agreed that there is a new environment of dialogue, we don't want to go back to square one," the minister told French news agency AFP. "There are channels to discuss this, we don't think that you should go on a public forum and say all these things," Benjamin argued.
Khartoum maintains that Juba supports Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) rebels fighting government forces in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. SPLM-N are former allies of the South. They fought together in Sudan's 1983-2005 civil war.
Speaking at a ceremony on Monday, after his army had recaptured the town of Abu Kersholoa in South Kordofan, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who wore a military uniform and was surrounded by top officials, warned he would shut the pipeline that carries oil from South Sudan. "I now give our brothers in South Sudan a last, last warning that we will shut down the oil pipeline forever if they give any support to the traitors in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile," he said.
South Kordofan's 1.1 million residents are viewed as being sympathetic to South Sudan. A recent report from the Small Arms Survey, an independent Swiss research group, indicated that South Sudan provided logistical, financial and political support for the insurgents in Sudan, but found no proof that it was arming them.
The Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), which is a grouping of rebels, has vowed to topple al-Bashir who has been in power since 1989. In April, the SRF launched a major offensive and briefly took control of Um Rawaba, a major city in central Sudan, before withdrawing.
The attack on Um Rawaba was the boldest rebel attack since they attacked Khartoum in 2008.They went on to strengthen their hold on Abu Kershola, in neighboring South Kordofan, Sudan's oil rich region.
South Sudan restarted oil production in April after a year long shut-down. The closure was as a result of a bitter argument with Khartoum on how to share oil revenue. „Oil is for the benefit of two countries," Benjamin said. "If they close it they are depriving the people of Sudan and South Sudan of a resource meant to strengthen two economies," he added.
“The potential damages to Sudan, South Sudan relations could be great - resumption of oil production for both countries is very important,” said Florian Dähne. He is the resident representative in Khartoum of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a think tank affiliated to Germany's Social Democratic Party. Dähne told DW's Africalink show that "cutting down this one economic area where there is a common interest could be a massive blow between North and South Sudan relations.”
He also said that both Khartoum and Juba believe the other side cannot live without income from oil longer than their side.
“So both sides from time to time seem to think it is strategically a wise instrument to threaten the other side by cutting off the oil flow.”
Sudan and South Sudan came to the brink of war in April 2012. Lengthy and tough negotiations, backed by threats of UN sanctions, ended in the two countries striking a peace deal. Cross border oil-flow resumed in March. However, a recent spat by the oil ministers from both countries over a technical problem at a pumping station showed their mistrust persists.