* Prolonged fighting would damage fragile economies
* Rebels in Sudan's Darfur region also report attack (Adds Juba protest)
By Alexander Dziadosz and Ulf Laessing
KHARTOUM/JUBA, April 18 (Reuters) - Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir
vowed on Wednesday to "liberate" South Sudan from its ruling party, a sharp
escalation of rhetoric after fierce border clashes that edged the African
neighbours closer to all-out war.
There has been growing alarm over the worst violence seen since South Sudan
split away from Sudan as an independent country in July under the terms of a
2005 peace settlement. Global powers have urged the two sides to end the
South Sudan seized the contested oil-producing Heglig region last week,
prompting Sudan's parliament to brand its former civil war foe an "enemy" on
Monday and to call for a swift recapture of the flat savanna region.
In a fiery speech to members of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP)
singing military songs, Bashir repeatedly referred to the South's ruling
Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) as "insects", a play on their
"Our main goal is liberation of the southern citizens from the SPLM," Bashir
said. "This is our responsibility before the Southern people."
He went on to predict "good news" from Heglig within a few hours, but also
suggested tensions would not end until the South's ruling party collapsed.
He did not specify how that might happen.
"The story began in Heglig, but it will end in Khartoum or Juba," Bashir
Shortly after the speech, South Sudan's army (SPLA) spokesman said the
South's forces had repulsed "a very big attack" on Heglig, which is known as
Panthou in the south. There was no immediate comment on this from Sudan or
independent confirmation of the claim.
Earlier on Wednesday, Sudan and South Sudan accused one another of launching
attacks on a new front. South Sudan's army said a total of 22 soldiers died
in the fighting.
Both countries are economically dependent on oil. Any protracted fighting
would severely hit their economies.
"AN EXPLOSIVE SITUATION"
Distrust runs deep between the neighbours, who are at loggerheads over the
position of their border, how much the landlocked South should pay to
transport its oil through Sudan and the division of national debt, among
South Sudan says Heglig is its rightful territory and has said it will only
withdraw if the United Nations deploys a neutral force there.
In Juba, around 1,000 South Sudanese gathered at a rally, chanting: "Down
with Bashir". They also criticised U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after
the U.N. Security Council had called on South Sudan to pull out from Heglig.
"Down with Ban Ki-moon!" Alfred Lado Gore, environment minister and a senior
SPLM official, told the cheering crowd. "We managed to win our independence
and we will win Heglig and (the disputed region of) Abyei."
Russia, a permanent U.N. Security Council member, called on South Sudan to
withdraw immediately to defuse "an explosive situation" in Heglig.
Sudan said it had repulsed an attack on Tuesday by South Sudan's armed
forces near the Bahr al-Arab river, known as the Kiir River in the south.
"Limited forces from the SPLA carried out an attack on the area to divert
the efforts of the armed forces working to liberate the Heglig region," the
state-linked Sudanese Media Centre quoted a local military official as
The report said the fighting took place 62 km (39 miles) south of Mairem
which, maps show, is on the boundary between the Sudanese regions of South
Kordofan and Darfur, the scene of a separate insurgency against the Khartoum
South Sudan's military spokesman, Philip Aguer, confirmed the clashes took
place but said the SPLA had not tried to enter Sudan's territory. The
fighting broke out after southern troops were shelled while trying to
collect water, he said.
"They reacted, and fighting erupted between them," Aguer said. "Our forces
crossed the river, crossed the bridge briefly, but the command recalled them
He said 15 Sudanese soldiers and seven SPLA troops were killed, figures
impossible to verify independently.
In a sign rebel groups in Sudan might be trying to take advantage of the
tensions, insurgents based in Darfur said late on Tuesday they had destroyed
a Sudanese military base and taken control of a town.
The reports from a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) loyal to Minni
Minnawi could not be independently verified, and Sudan's army spokesman was
not immediately available to comment.
In Khartoum, Sudanese foreign ministry official Omer Mohamed told reporters
Sudan would continue to press diplomatic as well as military efforts to
recover Heglig. "We have to end the occupation by hook or crook, by either
The 15-nation U.N. Security Council on Tuesday reiterated its call for Sudan
to stop air strikes and South Sudan to withdraw from Heglig. It also
discussed imposing sanctions on the countries if they did not stop the
Sudan said sanctions should only be directed against South Sudan, who it
accuses of violating its sovereignty. (Additional reporting by Michelle
Nichols at the United Nations and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Editing by
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Wed Apr 18 2012 - 18:08:50 EDT