Visit to go on amid tensions
Updated: 2012-04-20 08:02
By Li Xiaokun and Zhao Shengnan (China Daily)
Offer to mediate ahead of South Sudan leader's first Beijing trip
The visit by South Sudan's president to China was not rescheduled despite escalating tension between Sudan and South Sudan.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan in July after decades of civil war, but the two states never agreed on a border, how much the landlocked South should pay to transport its oil through Sudan and the division of national debt, among other issues.
Beijing will offer to mediate and ease the tension during Salva Kiir Mayardit's April 23-28 visit and will try to ensure the safety and interests of Chinese people and assets in the two African countries, experts said.
At a news briefing on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China is deeply concerned by the situation.
"China calls on the two countries to immediately stop the conflict, respect each other's sovereignty and look at the issue from a long-term perspective," he said.
Liu called for the two countries to resume talks.
"China has done a lot of work to ease the tension between the two nations. We are ready to work with the rest of the international community and continue to push for peace," Liu said, adding he has not learned of any change in the visit plans of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
According to the Foreign Ministry, President Hu Jintao will hold talks with Kiir.
Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir, dressed in military uniform, told thousands of supporters on Thursday in the Sudanese state of North Kordofan: "Heglig is in Kordofan."
The oil-rich Heglig was captured by South Sudan on April 10.
Kiir said last month that Heglig belongs to his country, but both Sudan and the African Union denied the claim.
"We will not give them an inch of our country, and whoever extends his hand on Sudan, we will cut it," Bashir told the rally.
The tensions prompted Bashir to say on Wednesday that he would "liberate" South Sudan from its rulers.
However, South Sudan's Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told reporters on Thursday that his country is not at war with Khartoum despite Bashir's remarks.
"The Republic of South Sudan is not in a state of war, nor is it interested in war with Sudan", but it is interested in peaceful relations and two viable states, the minister said.
Fighting has intensified in the past weeks amid fears the two nations could return to an all-out war.
On Tuesday, 22 people died in a clash at a river that divides the countries.
Zhong Jianhua, China's special envoy for African affairs, told Chinese media on Wednesday that all Chinese staff at the disputed oilfield were evacuated.
The conflict has put Chinese assets at risk, he said.
Hu Shaocong, director of the political division of the Chinese embassy in South Sudan, told China Central Television on Thursday that the conflict area was more than 1,000 kilometers away from Juba, where most of the Chinese population are centered. So far the situation is "relatively stable", he said.
Li Xinfeng, an expert of African studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said compromise will be difficult due to mistrust between Sudan and South Sudan.
But an all-out war is not likely, as both countries are being buffeted by harsh economic winds after South Sudan shut down oil production this year, Li said.
South Sudan, which relies on oil for around 98 percent of its income, stopped producing oil after a dispute with Sudan over the use of the latter's export pipelines.
International mediation from African Union countries and the United Nations would help ease tension, and China will offer mediation services during the visit by South Sudan's president, Li said.
Dai Yan, a former Chinese counselor to Ghana, said the two African neighbors are plagued by various disputes, from resources to religion.
"The split hasn't solved any of the old problems," Dai said.
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Reuters and AFP contributed to this story.
(China Daily 04/20/2012 page1)