Sudan’s president has said he will “cut” the hand of aggressors and retake the disputed oil-producing Heglig region as his country continues to clash with its southern neighbour South Sudan.
Omar al-Bashir told a rally in Sudan’s North Kordofan state on Thursday he would not surrender “an inch” of the country and that he would firmly deal with the enemies.
“We will not give them an inch of our country, and whoever extends his hand on Sudan, we will cut it,” Bashir told thousands of people in El-Obeid, North Kordofan’s capital.
“Heglig is in Kordofan,” he said in the speech broadcast on state television, dancing and waving his walking stick. The region accounts for 50 per cent of Sudan’s oil production.
Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste, reporting from Bentiu, South Sudan, said officials in Juba, the country’s capital, had dismissed Bashir’s statements as rhetoric.
“They [Sudanese authorities] never really accepted the cessation of the South”, Barnaba Benjamin, the South Sudanese minister of information, told our correspondent, referring to the referendum that led to South Sudan becoming an independent state.
Benjamin said the South was not interested in war with Sudan and that “all they’re trying to do is defend South Sudan’s territorial integrity”.
Greste said Bashir’s statements had further complicated diplomatic efforts.
“The scaling up of the rhetoric is something that is worrying diplomats,” our correspondent said.
“The challenge for the diplomats is to try to find [a way of] of resolving this dispute … ”
Bashir threatened on Wednesday to overthrow the “insect” government in South Sudan following the attack on Heglig, Sudan’s most important oil field, by troops from the south who seized it eight days ago.
“Our main goal is liberation of the southern citizens from the SPLM,” he told members of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) is the ruling party in South Sudan.
“We call it an insect … trying to destroy Sudan, and our main target from today is to eliminate this insect completely,” Bashir said.
“There are two choices: Either we end up in Juba or they end up in Khartoum. The old borders cannot take us both.”
“In a few hours you are going to listen to good news from your brothers in Heglig. Heglig will not be the end. The end will be in Juba.”
Bashir made the remarks as his audience sang songs about jihad, or holy war.
Swift victory forecast
While Bashir forecast a swift victory, a foreign ministry official said Sudan was pursuing both military and diplomatic measures to remove South Sudan from the area.
“Military steps are under way … and they are calculated measures,” Omar Dahab, head of the ministry’s crisis team, said.
At the same time, they are taking into consideration the diplomatic and good offices efforts regarding the ending of the occupation.
“We have to end the occupation by hook or crook, by either way.”
Sudan’s military has released virtually no information about the situation on the ground, but South Sudan has vowed to hold its positions in Heglig, despite air strikes.
Clashes broke out last month in the Heglig area and escalated last week with waves of aerial bombardment hitting the South and South Sudan’s seizure of the oil centre on April 10.
The UN, the US and the European Union have criticised the South’s occupation of the north’s most important oil field, equally denouncing Sudanese air raids against the South. South Sudan claims the raids prompted the invasion of Heglig.
There are widespread fears that the fighting, which began with skirmishes in the same area in late March and intensified last week, will spread.
It is already the worst episode since South Sudan won independence in July after a 1983-2005 civil war which killed two million people.
Bashir’s comments follow a UN Security Council meeting which discussed possible sanctions on Tuesday against Sudan and South Sudan in a bid to halt a wider war.
“Council members expressed grave concern over the situation and committed to make every effort to convince the parties to cease hostilities and return to the negotiating table,” Susan Rice, the Security Council president, said.
But Dahab, of Khartoum’s foreign ministry, said penalising both the aggressor and the victim would be wrong.
“It is clear that that is not fair,” he said. “Logically it should be directed to the aggressor.”
Although South Sudan disputes it, Heglig has been internationally recognised as being part of Sudan.