JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan said on Thursday it was ready to reopen negotiations immediately with its northern neighbor Sudan to try to resolve oil, security and frontier disputes that ignited border fighting last month.
Minister of Cabinet Affairs Deng Alor told reporters that his country, which became independent from Sudan last year, was committed to complying with a U.N. Security Council resolution last week that called on both countries to negotiate their differences peacefully or face sanctions.
“We are ready to go for negotiations any time ... I expect negotiations to resume any time from now,” Alor told a news conference in the South Sudanese capital Juba.
The May 2 Security Council resolution endorsed an African Union plan demanding that Khartoum and Juba cease hostilities, withdraw troops from disputed areas and resume talks within two weeks on all outstanding disputes. It gave them three months to resolve the issues under threat of sanctions.
South Sudan on Wednesday accused Sudan’s armed forces of carrying out fresh bombing raids on border areas. Khartoum routinely denies such accusations.
But Alor said the new attacks alleged by his government did not affect its commitment to resume talks with Sudan on the thorny issues of oil exports, security, border demarcation and citizenship that have remained unresolved since South Sudan became the world’s newest independent nation last year.
“We are ready to go the extra mile to negotiations,” he said. “Nobody is interested in war, we don’t want it, the international community doesn’t want it and the region doesn’t want it.”
Alor said South Sudan was waiting for former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the head of a high-level AU panel tasked with resolving the disputes between north and south, to formally call the two sides to resume negotiations on a specific date.
The north has said it accepts the Security Council resolution, but insists talks focus first on “security issues”.
“In the coming negotiations, if we don’t solve the security problems ... there will be no talk over any other clause - not oil, not trade, not citizenship, not Abyei, or any other file,” Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir Bashir told a group of oil and mining workers on Thursday.
Specifically, Khartoum accuses South Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, of backing its civil war ally, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, which is fighting Sudanese government forces in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
Alor denied that South Sudan was giving any support to the SPLM-N. “We are definitely friends (with the SPLM-N), but that does not mean that we will support them militarily,” he said.
The AU road map for talks made resolving the dispute over oil a priority, Alor said.
“It’s a priority for everybody, for us, the Government of Sudan, for investors and for the AU,” he said. “We are committed to negotiations and discussing everything.”
Sudan, which was Africa’s largest country before South Sudan broke off last year, lost three quarters of the oil output previously produced by unified Sudan. Khartoum and Juba have quarreled over oil transit fees for carrying South Sudanese crude through Sudan’s pipelines and Red Sea port.
In January, the dispute led to South Sudan shutting down oil production, and the reduced output and depleted revenue have put severe strain on both countries’ fragile economies.
In the absence of an agreement, and if Sudan continued to refuse to allow South Sudan to use its pipelines for crude exports, then Juba would go ahead with its plan for an alternative pipeline through another country, Alor said.
He repeated South Sudan’s claim that it occupied the disputed Heglig border oil zone in last month’s fighting - an action condemned by the international community - “because it was being used as a staging ground by the government of Sudan to attack us”.
“We acted in self-defense,” he said.
The minister said the outstanding security problems in disputed border areas like Abyei and in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states stemmed from lack of full implementation by Khartoum of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war and paved the way for the South’s independence.
Reporting by Pascal Fletcher and Hereward Holland; editing by Andrew Roche