, ADDIS ABABA, Apr 1 – Crisis talks between Sudan and South Sudan were stalled on Sunday as the two nations traded accusations over responsibility for recent clashes.
“We are here … to attempt to make peace; the Government of Sudan is waging war on South Sudan,” Juba’s chief negotiator Pagan Amum told journalists.
South Sudan declared independence last year after an overwhelming vote for secession following Africa’s longest war.
“The government of Sudan is bombing us as we speak,” said Amum, who reported fresh battles in the towns of Manga and Panakuach in Unity State, where fighting broke out Monday.
He dismissed as “categorically untrue” accusations levelled Saturday night by the Sudanese army that the South had invaded its territory and instead accused the north of planning further attacks along the disputed border.
“We are privy to intelligence that Sudan is planning an imminent invasion of Unity State,” he told reporters, adding that South Sudan would defend its territory if necessary.
“The government of South Sudan has the sovereign right to protect itself,” he said.
A member of the Khartoum delegation, speaking on condition of anonymity as the chief mediation – headed by former South African president Thabo Mbeki – has asked delegates not to speak to the press, dismissed Amum’s claims.
“We did not declare war and we have no intention to declare war,” he told AFP.
Teams from both countries have been in the Ethiopian capital since Saturday, but so far there have been no Khartoum-Juba talks.
Sources close to the talks said technical-level meetings have been going on since Wednesday.
Amum said the north’s failure to send the head of its security delegation has delayed the proceedings.
Khartoum’s foreign ministry spokesman Al-Obeid Meruh told AFP the defence minister would travel to Addis Ababa, but did not specify when.
“Today and tomorrow the minister of defence has some appointments and he will join the delegation after that. It might be tomorrow evening, or the day after,” he said.
Fresh violence in Unity State prompted Khartoum to call off a meeting between its president Omar al-Bashir and the South’s Salva Kiir that had been scheduled for April 3 in Juba.
South Sudan’s foreign minister Nhial Deng Nhial said Kiir was willing to meet Bashir, in Juba or elsewhere, despite this week’s incidents.
“If (al-Bashir) has any objection to meeting in any place other than Juba, we have no problem meeting him anywhere else,” he said.
The talks were called amid fears of return to a wider war following fighting Monday and Tuesday in the oil-rich Heglig region close to the disputed border – the most serious clashes since South Sudan’s independence in July.
The AU, UN Security Council and European Union have all called for an end to the fighting, with the US blaming Khartoum for much of it.
Meanwhile fighting that erupted Friday when insurgents from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) attacked the town of Talodi in South Kordofan, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the disputed frontier, continued into Sunday, a spokesman for the rebels told AFP.
“This is a town. This is not a small garrison,” Arnu Ngutulu Lodi explained, adding “there are casualties.” He did not elaborate on numbers.
The rebels failed earlier this year to take the town.