South Sudan said Wednesday that it had shot down a Sudan warplane carrying out a bombing mission on southern positions along their disputed border. Security talks between the two sides broke off in a hail of angry rhetoric.
The talks ended with what initially appeared to be signs of progress. The South Sudanese delegation said it had accepted an African Union proposal on reducing border tensions and was ready to sign.
The Sudanese team leader, Defense Minister Abdel-Rahim Mohammed Hussein, also sounded positive. Hussein said he was headed back to Khartoum for consultations on the proposal, and indicated the talks would continue in the coming days. "We had very good meetings here. We think this paper will need more consultation with the capitals. So we are going back, so we can do more consultation on this paper, and then we come back and continue," he said.
AU mediation panel chief Thabo Mbeki spoke at a news conference of significant progress toward an agreement that could ease tensions and clear the way for a summit between the Sudanese and South Sudanese presidents.
But soon after, the atmosphere turned bitter as South Sudan's chief negotiator, Pagan Amum, announced the downing of a Sudanese MiG-29 fighter jet along the disputed border. He accused Sudan's defense minister of personally ordering the bombing mission as he left the peace talks.
"The only explanation is that the team led by the minister of defense is a team that is anti-peace, that is for war. And indeed they have proven that from the time they left, they attacked South Sudan. The MiG-29 that attacked South Sudan, of which one has been shot down today, cannot attack without the minister of defense ordering them to attack. Definitely. This is very clear. It's warmongering that made them not to sign [the agreement]. Nothing else," he said.
A Sudanese military spokesman in Khartoum denied that a plane had been shot down. He called the report "completely incorrect."
A member of the AU mediation team said the latest developments would not affect Mr. Mbeki's efforts to ease border tensions that threaten to erupt into all-out war. But the former South African president acknowledged that the talks are being held in a tense atmosphere.
"The talks were conducted against the background of the escalating armed conflict along the common border and, like the two parties, the panel, of course, was gravely concerned about this fighting," he said.
Mr. Mbeki said his panel would immediately travel to the South Sudanese capital, Juba, to continue mediation efforts. After talks with President Salva Kiir, the panel is expected to fly to Khartoum to hold similar talks with President Omar al-Bashir.
Mr. Mbeki said the agenda would include the subject of a summit in the coming days at which the two leaders would take up sensitive issues that have stalled in negotiations.