The United Nations Security Council has demanded that South Sudan pull its troops out of a Sudanese oil town that it captured on Wednesday. The two countries came closer to all-out conflict Thursday as South Sudan looked ready to defy the Security Council’s order and Sudan threatened retaliation.
In a strongly worded statement, the 15-nation Security Council said it is deeply alarmed by the escalating conflict between the two Sudans, as marked by the seizure and occupation of the Sudanese town of Heglig by southern forces.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice holds the rotating presidency of the council this month and read its order.
"The Security Council demands a complete, immediate, and unconditional end to all fighting; withdrawal of the SPLA from Heglig; end to SAF aerial bombardments; end to repeated incidents of cross-pborder violence between Sudan and South Sudan; and an end to support by both sides to proxies in the other country," said Rice.
The council demanded that both sides redeploy their troops 10 kilometers outside the North/South January 1956 borderline in accordance with their agreements signed in 2011, as well as redeploying their forces out of another hotspot, the disputed Abyei area.
The council also urged the two Sudans to take steps to immediately establish a safe demilitarized border zone and activate their Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism.
The leaders of Sudan and South Sudan were to have met in a summit earlier this month, but Khartoum pulled out after an earlier round of fighting over the town of Heglig. On Thursday, the Security Council called on the two leaders to "meet immediately" in a summit so they could work on their outstanding issues.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also expressed his deep concern at the escalation between the two Sudans and his spokesman said that he spoke with South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, on Wednesday.
In Juba, Salva Kiir sounded defiant when he spoke to his parliament earlier Thursday about his conversation with the U.N. chief.
"He gave me an order, the U.N. secretary-general, that I'm ordering you to immediately withdraw from Heglig," said Kiir. "I said, 'I'm not under your command.' If I'm head of a state, an independent state, nobody will tell me that - do this, under duress."
Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, warned that his country would retaliate with force if South Sudan does not comply with the U.N.'s call for it to withdraw.
"We in the government of Sudan, we will observe closely the behavior and attitude and the reaction of the government of the South for this call," said Osman. "If they don't heed it to this call, we will reserve our right to exercise the right of self-defense and we will chase them out; not only that, we will hit deep inside the south."
South Sudan withdrew from Sudan and became an independent state in July after holding a referendum last year. The African Union is trying to help mediate disputes the two countries have on a number of outstanding issues, including disagreements over borders and oil revenues. But those talks have made little progress.