WASHINGTON — An alarmed United States on Wednesday called on Sudan and South Sudan to immediately end their border fighting and return to the negotiating table.
"The United States is deeply disturbed by the escalating hostilities," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement as fears mounted of a full-scale war between Sudan and newly independent South Sudan.
She condemned an incursion by South Sudanese forces into Sudan's South Kordofan state and seizure of the contested oil-producing Heglig region while she renewed US condemnation of Sudanese air strikes against civilian areas.
She said the South's offensive went beyond self-defense needs.
"Both governments must agree to an immediate unconditional cessation of hostilities... and cease all support to armed movements from the other state," she said.
She also urged forces from both sides to withdraw to boundaries delineated in the 2005 peace agreement that ended two decades of war between northern and southern Sudanese forces and led to the South's secession last year.
"We urge both countries to return without delay to the negotiating table under" African Union auspices and "use peaceful means, not military action, to resolve outstanding issues," she said.
"We further urge the heads of state of both countries to meet in a summit as previously planned in order to advance negotiations on the issues that stand in the way of achieving true peace," she said.
Under the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement, the two sides have still to settle differences over the sharing of oil revenues as well as the full demarcation of border areas.
Nuland said earlier that US envoy Princeton Lyman was in touch with his counterpart from the United Nations as well as with officials of the African Union, and he planned to contact the parties in the conflict.
Sudan and South Sudan edged the closest to all-out war Wednesday since the South seceded last year, as border clashes raged and both sides called on citizens to take up defenses.
The African Union said it was "deeply alarmed" by the worsening violence between the former civil war foes, but its efforts to mediate were set back when a furious Sudan pulled out of AU-led talks.
Amid heavy artillery bombardments and airstrikes in the battle zone, Sudan called the South's seizure of the Heglig region in South Kordofan state the worst violation of its territory yet.
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