The UN has called for an emergency summit to avoid all-out-war between Sudan and South Sudan as fighting between the two sides rages in Heglig, an important oil-production border area. Observers fear the worst.
UN leader Ban Ki-Moon called on South Sudan's president Salva Kiir to hold a summit with his northern counterpart on Wednesday to prevent the two sides sinking back into a full-blown conflict.
"The secretary general urged to consider holding a presidential summit immediately to build confidence and assure the peoples of South Sudan and Sudan that peace and dialogue is the only option before both sides," said Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky.
Ban, who has had no direct contact with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, "strongly urged Khartoum to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further military action," according to Nesirky.
The African Union also said Wednesday it was "deeply alarmed" by escalating violence between Sudan and South Sudan and called on Southern Sudanese troops to withdraw from the Heglig battle zone.
"The African Union expresses grave concern at the escalating armed conflict on the border between Sudan and South Sudan and calls upon both parties to exercise utmost restraint," said the organisation in a statement.
"The African Union notes with alarm the occupation of Heglig by the armed forces of the Republic of South Sudan, and calls for their immediate and unconditional withdrawal," it added.
Fighting rages on
Meanwhile, fighting continued to rage for a second day on the border between the two over a disputed oil field.
Sudanese army spokesman Colonel Sawarmy Khaled told the official Radio Omdurman on Wednesday that South Sudan's army had attacked the border town of Heglig twice in the past 24 hours.
Sudan has reportedly responded with airstrikes in areas along the border, some of them entering at least 50 kilometers (30 miles) into South Sudan.
Khartoum vowed on Tuesday to use "all legitimate means" to counter the alleged aggression. It has claimed previous attacks on Heglig, but South Sudan officials have denied the charges and accuse the northern forces of initiating the attacks.
The clashes follow border fighting that broke out last month between the two neighbors. It is the most serious unrest since South Sudan declared independence last July after decades of civil war.
A troubled secession
Since the south gained independence, the two countries have been enmeshed in a series of rows over indefinite borders and how to share oil revenues.
South Sudan took three-quarters of the country's oil production when it separated, but it still needs Sudan's pipeline and port to export it. One dispute centers on the fees the South must pay to use the infrastructure.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki held talks last week with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudan leader Salva Kiir to try to resolve the conflict.
About two million people died in Sudan's decades-long civil war, which was driven by ethnic, religious and ideological differences as well as desire for oil.
sej/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)