It was unclear whether the comments, coming days after South Sudan seized the disputed Heglig oil field near the border, represented a formal declaration of war or were merely intended to persuade the United States, the United Nations and regional powers to force South Sudan to leave the area.
Nevertheless, Bashir’s fiery remarks prompted a torrent of criticism from the United Nations and Washington, which was instrumental in forging a 2005 peace deal that ended a decades-long civil war between the two sides and has spent billions to keep South Sudan stable in a region plagued by terrorism and militant Islam. If war erupts again, the United States and its allies could be drawn into trying to mediate another protracted conflict.
In New York, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced frustration that the two countries have ignored repeated calls to return to the negotiating table to settle their differences.
“The last thing the people of these two countries need is another war — a war that could claim countless lives, destroy hope and ruin the prospects of peace and stability and prosperity of all Sudanese people,” he said at a news conference.
Ban called on South Sudan to immediately withdraw its forces from the town of Heglig, saying its seizure constituted “an infringement of the sovereignty of Sudan and a clearly illegal act.” He also called on Khartoum to stop shelling and bombing South Sudanese territory and to withdraw its forces from disputed territories.
South Sudanese officials insisted that Khartoum was the aggressor, saying the north had attacked four areas since Wednesday. “We are only defending ourselves,” said Col. Philip Aguer, a spokesman for South Sudan’s military, adding that South Sudanese troops repulsed the northern forces.
The United Nations has been in a state of almost permanent crisis management since South Sudan gained independence in July. In the weeks before that, Sudan invaded the disputed territory of Abyei and launched an offensive against its former military foes in South Kordofan, leading to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, who face the prospect of starvation.
The U.N. Security Council has been trying to muster a diplomatic response that could persuade the two sides to back down. This week, the United States floated the idea of imposing U.N. sanctions to compel the two parties to step back from the fighting. But confidence in a diplomatic solution appeared to be waning.
On Tuesday, former South African president Thabo Mbeki warned the 15-nation council in a closed-door meeting that the two sides were trapped in the “logic of war” and that it may be “too late to talk” them down from their military confrontation.