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UN Calls on South Sudan to Withdraw From Sudanese Town

A wide view of the Security Council
A wide view of the Security Council

The United Nations secretary-general has called on both Sudan and South Sudan to withdraw their forces from each other's territory after the south captured a Sudanese town Wednesday, triggering threats of retaliation from Khartoum. The Security Council is also urging Juba to pull back its troops as it considers additional action.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon expressed his "alarm" at the escalation between Sudan and South Sudan over the capture of the oil-producing town of Heglig.

In a statement, Mr. Ban called on both parties to "immediately cease hostilities, remove their forces from each other's territory and avoid further bloodshed."

Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, told reporters his government had made an official complaint with the Security Council about what he termed the South's "blatant attack against" Khartoum’s sovereignty.

He warned that Sudan reserves its right to self-defense and would retaliate "deep inside South Sudan" if the U.N. Security Council does not strongly condemn the incursion into Heglig.

"We are waiting for the outcome of the Security Council, if it didn't [sic] address the situation I would again like to reiterate that we will be ready to retaliate -- and to retaliate with the same magnitude of their attack," he said.

The Security Council discussed the situation in Heglig during a closed meeting Wednesday. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who holds the rotating presidency of the council this month, told reporters afterwards that South Sudan had confirmed it had captured the oil town. "Council members stressed that the SPLA must withdraw immediately and Sudan must stop aerial bombardments and incursions into South Sudan. Both sides must return to talks and cease all hostilities," she said.

She added that the council is working on a statement and "additional actions" reflecting that concern.

Sudan's ambassador said Khartoum would hold Juba liable for any damage to oil facilities in Heglig. He said up until the town was seized, wells there were producing more than 130,000 barrels of oil each day.

The U.N. secretary-general's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said that Mr. Ban had spoken earlier Wednesday with South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, about the situation. "They discussed the recent escalation of conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. The secretary-general advised that before undertaking a discussion on the cause of the escalation, the immediate priority is to de-escalate the situation to avoid further bloodshed," he said.

The spokesman said the U.N. chief also urged the two nations to hold a presidential summit as soon as possible to defuse tensions and resolve outstanding issues. The leaders of the two Sudans were supposed to meet earlier this month, but the meeting was canceled after an earlier round of fighting over Heglig.

Mr. Ban also spoke with Sudan's U.N. ambassador Tuesday evening and strongly urged Khartoum to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further military action.

He also had discussions with other leaders including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and planned to contact other leaders in the region.