South Sudan is now urging the international community to urgently intervene and resolve a crisis between the new nation and its northern neighbour, which has been bombarding villages and oil fields in border points since last week.
Juba’s Minister for Information and Broadcasting Barbara Marial Benjamin said Sudanese President Omar el Bashir had failed to respect a peace agreement signed on oil exploration and has now resolved to launch a war.
“What Bashir is doing is totally against a peace deal Khartoum signed with Juba. All what he is doing is about oil, nothing else,” Benjamin told a news conference in Nairobi on Monday.
He said the north has lately imposed tough restrictions which are meant to frustrate the South’s bid to export their own oil through the Khartoum.
“And when Khartoum realised that we have decided to close down all our oil fields, they imposed tough restrictions on oil exploration,” he added.
Among other things, Benjamin said, Khartoum is charging Juba oil transit fees of 36 dollars per barrel. “That is why we closed the oil fields.”
“This is way above the international commercial rates; if we pay the amount per barrel we are going to lose more than 60 percent of our oil, and we have said we will not pay. That is why they are now bombarding us,” the South Sudan Minister said adding: “We will close our oil fields until we build the Lamu port and our oil pipelines to be able to export oil to the international market.”
“The price Khartoum wants to charge us is way above the 18 cents other oil producing nations pay, we have been negotiating and we were ready to pay one dollar and they refused, we will stay with our oil,” he said, admitting that the country may have to walk a tightrope with debts until it starts exporting oil independently. “We have put in place austerity budget after shutting down our oil fields.”
Bashir was due to visit Juba to hold talks with his counterparts Salva Kiir on March 22, but the talks were called off following the latest flare up.
“He did not come, and now they have started bombarding our oil fields, I think they want to use this excuse and say there is insecurity and war so he cannot come, he is simply trying to avoid talks with Kiir,” he said.
As a result of the latest attacks, dozens of people have been killed and there are fears many more will be displaced unless the bombardments are stopped.
The South Sudan Minister said his country was not prepared to take their people back to war but vowed to defend its territory unless the north stops bombarding villages.
“Our president has made it very clear that he will never take his people back to war, but South Sudan will defend its territory at all times,” the minister said.
He said the Sudanese People Liberation Army (SPLA) was not fighting but repulsing the Sudanese troops bombarding the border villages.
During the press conference, Benjamin accused the African Union (AU) of doing too little to curb the escalating situation, which he fears may degenerate into a war between the two nations.
“If South Sudan and the North go into a war, it will not be a guerrilla war, it will be a war between two nations and neighbouring countries like Kenya, Uganda and others will be affected. We don’t want this to happen,” he said and urged IGAD which played a major role in striking a peace deal between the two countries to intervene. “AU is sitting pretty, it is not doing anything.”