Sudan and South Sudan are facing the threat of United Nations sanctions if they fail to stop fighting along their disputed frontier in the Horn of Africa.
A unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution, which condemns the surge of border violence, orders the two Sudans to cease hostilities within two days and resume negotiations within two weeks.
The U.N. resolution endorses an African Union road map it hopes will avert a return to war.
Usually reluctant to approve such texts, Russia and China both signed up, reflecting the growing international concern over the crisis. China, which buys much of the oil from the disputed region, is considered particularly influential.
The African Union asked the U.N. Security Council to pass a legally binding ultimatum, obliging Sudan and South Sudan to comply with a peace plan to end hostilities. It also calls on them to withdraw their troops from disputed zones and settle all outstanding disputes — including oil revenues, the demarcation of borders and contested oil-rich zones, and support for rival proxy rebels.
Sudan and South Sudan regularly trade accusations that each supports the other's militia allies.
The two Sudans have three months to work through their unresolved problems. Both have agreed to sit down and restart negotiations, yet both Sudan and South Sudan claim the other is not interested in genuine peace or dialogue.
Clashes flared up last month after South Sudanese forces occupied Heglig, a large oil field that was under the control of Sudan.
The African Union, the U.N. Security Council, the White House and others called on South Sudan to pull out its troops, which South Sudan says it did.
Sudan says there was no withdrawal and that it chased the southern soldiers out of Heglig.
South Sudan, where two-thirds of the region's oil fields are located, shut down all crude oil production in January, accusing Sudan of charging outrageous fees for use of its pipeline and confiscating cargoes of crude.
Sudan says the South is offering a fee it considers far too small and had stopped paying for the crude to be transported for export from Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
The South argues that it entered Heglig to stop repeated deadly Sudanese airstrikes on its territory.
'It's My Land'
On Thursday, South Sudan accused Sudan of renewed air attacks on the South. There has also been global condemnation of Sudan's aerial bombardments and the North had been told to stop them.
In the South's capital, Juba, about 200 marchers took to the streets on Wednesday as part of a rally organized by Christian churches.
To loud cheers and ululations, one of the rally's organizers, Prophet Abraham Chol, angrily told the crowd the U.N., the U.S. and the African Union made a wrong move by telling South Sudan to pull out of Heglig.
"We reject the decision by the international community, which even America is a part of, to withdraw our army from Heglig," he said.
He says the international community's decision is unjust.
The demonstrators also shouted "Down With al-Bashir," a reference to Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.
Student marcher Gloria Emmanuel angrily denounced the Sudanese leader.
"Al-Bashir is just a criminal," she said. "He is just taking our petrol, our oil, our land — by force. ... It's my land, it's my territory, and I can't give it up for anyone in this world. I'll fight until I get my rights."
Where Is The Era Of Peace?
It has been seven years since the end of the long civil war between the North and South, and less than a year since South Sudan declared independence and split from Sudan.
That landmark was supposed to herald a new era of peace and cooperation. But many feel that critical, unresolved quarrels have brought the two Sudans to the brink of war.
The rally stopped at the U.S. Embassy in Juba, where marchers handed a petition to the deputy chief of mission, Christopher Datta.
He said the U.S. congratulated the government of South Sudan for accepting the African Union's road map for peace. He added that the conflict between the neighbors "has dragged on long enough and it's time there is a settlement on the border and a settlement on other issues."
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A U.N. Security Council resolution gives the two Sudans until tomorrow to stop fighting over their oil-rich border. Otherwise, they could face sanctions. Once the fighting stops they'll have two weeks to begin negotiating a way out of their various disputes. The U.N.'s decision endorses an African Union plan that it hopes will avert a return to war between Sudan and newly-independent South Sudan.
From the South's capital, Juba, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: About two hundred South Sudanese march through the streets of Juba in a rally organized by Christian church leaders. They chant for peace and against war and also chant anti-Sudan slogans, as they unfurl huge banners condemning their northern neighbor across the border.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)
QUIST-ARCTON: Heglig is the main strategic oilfield in Sudan that the southern army captured last month. South Sudan said it moved to stop deadly Sudanese air strikes targeting positions in the South. South Sudan agreed to withdraw its forces after international condemnation of the occupation of Heglig.
Prophet Abraham Chol is one of the rally organizers.
ABRAHAM CHOL: We are not agreed for the international community to decide against us. This is unjustice decision.
QUIST-ARCTON: It's been seven years since the end of the long civil war between the North and South, and less than a year since South Sudan declared independence and split from Sudan. That landmark was supposed to herald a new era of peace, good neighborliness and cooperation. But many feel that critical, unresolved quarrels over oil, un-demarcated borders, citizenship, and much more have led the two Sudans back to the brink of war.
GLORIA EMMANUEL: As a nation we cannot fight. We have just come out from fighting. Independence is forever. No war, no fighting, no bloodshed again.
QUIST-ARCTON: Student marcher, Gloria Emmanuel, speaks for many South Sudanese - most of whom claim Sudan and its president, Omar Hassan Al Bashir, have declared war on them.
The South has shut down all crude oil production, accusing Sudan of charging outrageous fees for use of its pipeline and confiscating cargoes of crude oil.
EMMANUEL: Al Bashir is just a criminal. He is just taking our petrol. He's taking our oil. He's taking our land by force. This my land. It's my territory. I will fight until I get my rights.
QUIST-ARCTON: The Christian peace marchers carried a petition to foreign diplomatic missions around Juba. First stop, the U.S. embassy and an introduction by Pastor Paul Deng Joshua Lake.
REVEREND PAUL DENG JOSHUA LAKE: Your Excellency, we are here at the American embassy concerning the crisis that are taking place in our countries...
QUIST-ARCTON: The U.S. deputy chief of mission, Christopher Datta, emerges to talk to the marchers.
CHRISTOPHER DATTA: The United States congratulates the patience and the commitment to peace that the people of South Sudan have demonstrated. We understand your frustrations and we sympathize with it. And we will work very hard to try to find peace...
QUIST-ARCTON: The African Union and the U.N. Security Council warn that both sides must quit fighting, stop the bellicose rhetoric and return to the negotiating table now. South Sudan says it is ready. Sudan's president, too, has indicated that he's prepared to comply and talk peace with the South's leaders, who just recently he called insects that must be crushed.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Juba. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.