KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudan and its southern rival slid toward a ruinous war Thursday, with fighting continuing along their contested border and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir threatening to teach the world’s newest country “a final lesson by force.”
A protracted war between Sudan and South Sudan, which separated peacefully in July, would almost certainly have a devastating civilian toll and damage the oil sector on which both economies depend.
But diplomacy has gotten nowhere. The two sides fought a civil war for more than two decades, which killed an estimated 2 million people. Analysts said that unless they can be pressed to return to the negotiating table now, the chances for them to coexist peacefully may be lost for years or even decades.
South Sudan seized Heglig, Sudan’s most important oil-producing area, last week, after which Sudan’s parliament declared that the new country was an enemy that must be defeated. Al-Bashir has called South Sudan’s military “insects” and vowed to “liberate” its territory.
“These people don’t understand, and we will give them a final lesson by force,” news reports quoted him as telling a rally Thursday. “We will not give them an inch of our country, and whoever extends his hand over Sudan, we will cut it.”
The peace deal signed by the two sides in 2005 ended 22 years of civil war. But South Sudan seceded before the most intractable differences between the two were settled.
The exact border is still in dispute. In the split, South Sudan got about 80 percent of the country’s oil, which accounts for 98 percent of its revenue. The most serious disagreement, over oil revenue and landlocked South Sudan’s oil transit payments, escalated when Sudan seized South Sudanese oil in January.
Efforts to mediate a solution through the African Union have failed.
The U.N. Security Council has demanded that South Sudan withdraw from Heglig. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on both sides Thursday to avoid a war “that could claim countless lives, destroy hope and ruin the prospects of peace and stability and prosperity of all Sudanese people.”
The United States, which is generally supportive of South Sudan, has condemned its seizure of Heglig, as well as Sudan’s bomb attacks in South Sudan.