Less than six months after South Sudan broke away from Sudan, an act that was the culmination of a peace accord to end decades of civil war, tensions between the neighbors are crystallizing into fears of direct confrontation.
Speaking in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, President Kiir denounced the Sudanese government for threatening what he called a “military invasion” of South Sudan, and he rejected accusations by the Sudanese government that his country was arming Sudanese rebels as “utterly baseless and malicious.” Mr. Kiir has also accused the Sudanese government of bombing the South Sudanese area of Guffa in recent days, killing at least seven people and potentially moving the insurgencies on both sides of the border closer to an international conflict.
The United States issued a statement on Thursday condemning “in the strongest possible terms” what it called “negative developments” between the nations, particularly the airstrike by the Sudanese forces. “The provocative aerial bombardments near the border increase the potential of direct confrontation between Sudan and South Sudan,” the American statement said. Sudan has denied striking South Sudanese territory. Nevertheless, on Thursday afternoon an Antonov bomber dropped four bombs on the South Sudanese area of Yida, hitting a refugee camp of roughly 21,000 people, some of them northern Sudanese who had crossed the border since the rebellion in Sudan began.
Last week, the Sudanese government lodged a formal complaint with the United Nations Security Council, arguing that South Sudan was trying to start a border war.
“We don’t have any intention to go to war again, but it is now up to the southern government to either strengthen its state without hostility, or to disturb us,” said a Sudanese government spokesman, Rabie A. Atti. “If they come to war, they will lose a lot.”
The United States, a close partner of South Sudan, had made strong overtures to the government in Sudan, saying that if it cooperated peacefully with South Sudan’s transition to independence, economic sanctions on the country could be lifted.
But last week, President Obama seemed to change his mind, calling for sanctions to be extended over what he called “hostile” actions on the part of the Sudanese government that posed an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to American foreign policy.
“They promised us a lot of things; nothing actually implemented,” said Mr. Atti, the Sudanese government spokesman. “It’s unfair.”
As for South Sudan, it is one of the least developed countries in the world. Furthermore, it faces a number of internal rebellions itself, particularly in provinces near the border, and it has accused the Sudanese government of backing militias there.