JUBA, May 28 – South Sudan said on Monday Sudanese war planes and artillery had bombarded its territory on the eve of peace talks, as Southern officials set off to attend African Union-led negotiations in Ethiopia.
“They are bombing South Sudan, attacking South Sudan, and continuing to send armed groups to destabilise South Sudan… these are not the signs of peace,” South Sudan’s top negotiator Pagan Amum told reporters.
However, Amum said he was still “optimistic” that the talks due to start on Tuesday in Addis Ababa would go ahead and produce results.
The former civil war foes fought heavily in contested border regions last month, the worst fighting since the South won independence last July and sparking international concerns of a return to all-out war.
International pressure has pushed both sides to return to the long-running talks stalled by the fighting in April, when Southern troops seized an oil field from Khartoum’s troops for ten days as Sudan launched repeated air strikes.
Southern army spokesman Philip Aguer said that Khartoum’s army, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), had launched bombing raids by warplanes as well as firing shells across their contested border.
“For the last three days SAF has been bombing Northern Bahr el Ghazal… this has also involved long range artillery,” Aguer told AFP. “We remain on high alert for a possible ground attack.”
Sudan has repeatedly denied it has launched air strikes on the South, and it was not possible to independently verify the reports of the attacks.
A United Nations Security Council earlier this month ordered both sides cease fighting and return to talks or face possible sanctions.
“We are returning to the talks ready to negotiate with the Government of Sudan to discuss all the outstanding issues,” Amum added.
“We are actually more optimistic than any time before, as today we have the UN Security Council resolution giving a timeframe to achieve resolution within three months. It is good there is international backing.”
However, Amum accused Khartoum of “attempting to impose preconditions on the talks” and said that it was “clear and obvious that the Government of Sudan is not only hostile but is in violation of the (UN) resolution.”
Khartoum’s foreign ministry has said it will attend the May 29 talks and discuss the UN resolution that they resume dialogue on “critical” issues unresolved after the South gained independence last year.
However, Khartoum on Sunday said it had complained to the UN Security Council over reported “aggression” by the South, including alleged cross-border incursions, which it said had also broken the UN order to halt hostilities.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan in July after a 2005 peace deal ended one of Africa’s longest civil wars, which killed about two million people.
But tensions soon flared again over a series of unresolved issues, including the border, the future of disputed territories and oil.
The South separated with about 75 percent of the former united Sudan’s oil production, but Juba still depends on the north’s pipeline and Red Sea port to export its crude.
A protracted dispute over fees for use of that infrastructure led South Sudan in January to shut its oil production after accusing the north of theft.
The Security Council gave both sides three months to conclude the talks.