US President Barack Obama on Monday urged South Sudan to show restraint after heavy border fighting with Sudan as officials voiced alarm over growing hunger, refugees and fears of all-out war.
As officials from Sudan and South Sudan held crisis talks in Ethiopia, Obama spoke by telephone to US-backed South Sudan's President Salva Kiir to voice concern over bloodshed at the border and within Sudan's Southern Kordofan state.
"President Obama underscored the importance of avoiding unilateral actions, and asked President Kiir to ensure that South Sudan's military exercises maximum restraint and is not involved in or supporting fighting along the border, particularly in Southern Kordofan," a White House statement said.
Obama also pressed the two nations to reach an agreement on oil production. South Sudan made the drastic decision in January to halt production of its main money-maker after Sudan started to seize crude due to a payment dispute.
South Sudan became independent in July last year after an overwhelming vote following two decades of war. Khartoum, long a pariah over its actions in South Sudan and Darfur, won cautious Western praise by accepting the secession.
But violence soon erupted in Sudan's southern states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. A relentless bombing campaign has severely hampered agriculture, leading aid workers to warn of starvation without immediate action.
More recently, Sudan and South Sudan have engaged in the worst violence since Juba's independence, with airstrikes, tanks and artillery fire.
Sudan has pinned the blame for the crisis on South Sudan, charging that the new US-supported state is arming ethnic insurgents in Southern Kordofan who are affiliated to what is now Juba's leadership.
Princeton Lyman, the US special envoy on Sudan and South Sudan, said that the two countries should speak "very candidly" about allegations that they are trying to destabilize each other.
"But it would also be a mistake to think that the troubles in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile are only because of possible support from the South," Lyman told reporters on a conference call.
Lyman said that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the north-south civil war in 2005, failed to address critical internal matters in Sudan's border states.
"The government of Sudan must address those issues with the people of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile to really end the conflict there," he said.
The conflict made international headlines last month when actor George Clooney was arrested outside Sudan's embassy in Washington as he demanded that Khartoum immediately let food into Southern Kordofan.
"We've pressed very, very hard for that," Lyman said of the aid plan.
"There are ways to get food in -- other ways -- but they are not sufficient to the scope of the problem," he said, referring to calls by some activists for air or land shipments without Khartoum's permission.
Christa Capozzola, a senior official at the US Agency for International Development, said Monday that the situation was "very serious" with 200,000 to 250,000 people close to running short of food in South Kordofan and similar shortages expected by August in Blue Nile.
Some 4.7 million people in South Sudan are already facing hunger this year of which at least one million are projected to be "severely food insecure," Wiesner told the conference call.
"With these numbers, obviously the (humanitarian) agencies remain in a race against time," she said.
Source: AFP American Edition