The threat of an all-out war appears to have been averted after South Sudan withdrew its forces from a disputed oil field. Juba now wants the issue decided by international mediation.
South Sudan announced plans Friday to withdraw its troops from an oil field in a move meant to defuse a dispute that had threatened to spark an all-out war with its northern neighbor, Sudan.
However a spokesman for South Sudan's military said this didn't mean that Juba was giving up its claim to the Heglig oil field.
"It doesn't mean we are abandoning the area. If our territory is being occupied we will not wait for the international community," Colonel Philip Aguer said, adding that South Sudanese forces would "be there to react to any incursions and react if bombardment doesn't stop."
A spokesman for President Salva Kiir, who announced the move, also reiterated South Sudan's claim to the territory, but said his government would now seek to get the dispute resolved through international arbitration.
The announcement came after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had urged South Sudan to pull out of the territory, saying it was "an infringement on the sovereignty of Sudan and clearly an illegal act."
He also called on Sudanese forces to stop shelling the area and for both sides to settle the dispute through negotiations.
Shortly after Kiir's announcement, Sudan responded by claiming its forces had retaken the town that had been seized by South Sudanese troops 10 days ago.
"Our troops were able to liberate Heglig town by force and captured it at 2:20 p.m. today," Sudanese Defense Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein said in a statement broadcast on state television.
Earlier this week Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir had threatened to topple the South Sudanese regime over the dispute.
The Heglig oilfield, which accounts for 75 percent of Sudan's oil production, is internationally recognized as Sudanese territory but the border has not been clearly demarcated since South Sudan seceded last year.
pfd/mz (AP, dpa, AFP)