ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The African Union called on Sudan to stop its aerial bombardment of South Sudan and for both countries to cease hostilities, as an uneasy calm settled over the south Wednesday.
The African Union Peace and Security Council issued a communique with a seven-point roadmap calling for a halt to the fighting and giving Sudan and South Sudan two weeks to restart negotiations which broke down earlier this month. It gave the two nations three months to complete negotiations.
The AU also said Sudan and South Sudan should withdraw their forces from the disputed border region, keep their troops within their borders and stop supporting rebel groups in the other nation. It demanded the two neighboring countries stop issuing inflammatory statements and propaganda that could escalate the conflict. The AU also asked the U.N. Security Council to endorse the roadmap.
South Sudan won independence from Sudan last year as part of a 2005 peace treaty that ended decades of war that killed 2 million people. The two countries have drawn closer to a full-scale war in recent weeks over the unresolved issues of oil revenues and their disputed border.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the current Security Council president, told reporters after a meeting on Sudan late Tuesday that members had just seen the AU communique and would be consulting their governments.
Speaking for the United States, she called it "a positive and constructive contribution" and said the U.S. will be consulting with council members "about their readiness and willingness to contemplate next steps that reflect the thrust of the AU communique."
In a move that might ease tensions, South Sudan released 13 captured Sudanese soldiers. On their way home, the released soldiers stopped late Wednesday in Egypt, which mediated their release, Egyptian Foreign Ministry official Mohammed Morsi said. The freed soldiers were accompanied by Red Cross staffers.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir said Tuesday that Sudan had "declared war" on his country following the north's repeated bombing of the south. Kiir's comments, made during a trip to China, signaled a rise in rhetoric between the rival nations. Neither side has officially declared war.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir gave a fiery speech last week in which he said there will be no negotiations with the "poisonous insects" who are challenging Sudan's claim to a disputed territory near the border.
In January, the landlocked South Sudan shut down oil production and accused Sudan of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil it shipped through its northern neighbor. Sudan responded by bombing the south's oil fields.
Earlier this month, South Sudan invaded the oil-rich town of Heglig, which was in the control of Sudan but which both countries claim. South Sudan's government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin said that troops from the south had withdrawn from Heglig on Monday, but that Sudan continued with aerial bombardment of the south.
The U.N. Mission in South Sudan confirmed that at least 16 civilians in South Sudan were killed and 34 injured in bombings by Sudanese aircraft in Unity State, Rice told reporters in New York on Tuesday. She said the mission reported that the bombings also caused significant damage to infrastructure.
In the South Sudan region of Panakuac, which has seen days of air and ground attacks, violence subsided Wednesday and people were out in the streets.
South Sudan government spokesman Benjamin also said there was no reported incidents of violence by Wednesday afternoon in much of the south, though he cautioned he was still receiving reports from various regions.
A Chinese official said Wednesday that Kiir had to cut short his visit to China because of the problems at home. Kiir originally planned to spend five days in China, a key economic and strategic partner for the newly independent country. It remained unclear exactly when he would return to South Sudan.