Senior members of Sudan People's Liberation Movement are said to be holding emergency consultations in the southern city of Juba in response to a fiery speech by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who called on paramilitary forces created to fight the former southern rebels to prepare for war. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
Sudan's Deputy Minister of Justice and a member of the Sudan People Liberation Movement, William Ajal Deng, tells VOA the SPLM meeting in Juba is aimed at calming tempers and formulating the former rebels' final position on various issues pertaining to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in 2005.
Deng says President Bashir's words were inflammatory, but the SPLM is not ready to abandon the peace accord, which effectively ended a 22-year civil war between the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum and the mainly Christian, black rebels in the south.
"I hope it was a slip of the tongue," he said. "The country is not prepared for war right now. We have been asking for the implementation of the agreement, nothing else."
The SPLM accuses Khartoum of undermining or ignoring key elements of the deal, including failing to withdraw troops from southern Sudan, and rejecting a boundary commission's binding report on the oil-rich Abyei region in the south that requires President Bashir's government to share the region's vast oil wealth with the people of Southern Sudan.
Last month, the SPLM suspended its participation in the government of national unity to protest the delay in the implementation of the peace agreement.
Speaking on Saturday at an event marking the anniversary of the founding of a government-allied militia called the Popular Defense Force, President Bashir again rejected the Abyei boundary commission report, declaring that the oil region would never be part of the south.
He also warned that the government in Khartoum is ready to go back to war with the south, if necessary. The Sudanese leader says the Popular Defense Force should open their training camps and gather Muslim fighters, not to start a war but to prepare for one.
The Popular Defense Force was established by the Sudanese government in 1990 to fight the southern rebels. The group is also accused of committing atrocities against civilians in the western Darfur region of Sudan, where local rebels have been fighting for more political and economic rights from Khartoum for more than four years.
The Darfur rebel faction Sudan Liberation Movement-Unity has called President Bashir's order to re-open Popular Defense Force camps as a declaration of war. The rebel group's spokesman, Suleiman Jamous, tells VOA that his fighters are on high alert.
"Mr. al-Bashir, if he said this, that means they are also coming here and we are ready to defend ourselves, to defend our areas when he starts," he said.
Western diplomats and observers say they fear hostilities between the north and south could fuel the rebellion in Darfur, plunging Africa's largest country deeper into political, economic, and humanitarian crisis.