Bashir says army to continue campaign in oil state
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said the army would continue its campaign in the flashpoint of South Korfodan, state news agency SUNA said on Friday, dashing hope of a ceasefire ahead of southern secession.
In his first comments since returning from a visit to China, Bashir seemed to contradict comments by a northern official this week that north and south had agreed "in principle" on a ceasefire in the northern oil state.
Fighting between the northern military and southern-aligned armed groups broke out in Southern Kordofan on June 5 and has escalated to include artillery and warplanes. More than 60,000 people are believed to have fled the fighting, the United Nations said.
Both U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon have urged a ceasefire in the state to defuse tensions before the south becomes independent on July 9.
"He directed the armed forces to continue their military operations in South Kordofan until a cleasening of the region is over," SUNA quoted Bashir as telling worshippers during Friday prayers.
The military campaign would only stop with the arrest of Abdelaziz el-Helu, the candidate of the southern ruling party Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the governorship vote there in May.
Helu had accused Khartoum of rigging the vote he had lost. Khartoum denied the charges, and the biggest international observer group called the outcome of the vote "credible".
Bashir called Helu an outlaw that needed to be brought to justice for comitting crimes such as killing innocent people, SUNA said.
North and south had agreed during Bashir's absence in China on a demilitarised buffer zone at the joint 2,000 kilometre long border, raising hopes of a ceasefire in South Kordofan.
On Wednesday, a northern state minister said both sides had agreed "in principle" at talks in Ethiopia to hold a ceasefire in South Kordofan pending details that needed to be worked out
Southern Kordofan is important to the north because it has the most productive oil fields that will remain under Khartoum's control after the split. The south could take as much as 75 percent of Sudan's 500,000 barrels per day of oil output.
Southern Kordofan also borders the disputed Abyei territory and Darfur, a western region that is the scene of another insurgency.
The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a U.S.-drafted resolution authorizing deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian troops to the Abyei region for a six-month period.
South Sudan voted for independence under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war but both sides have yet to solve many issues such as sharing oil revenues or assets.