The UN Security Council have begun talks discussions on a draft resolution that would call for sanctions against Sudan and South Sudan if they do not meet African Union demands to end their border war.
The draft resolution, circulated by the US on Thursday, backs previously stated AU demands for all troops to be withdrawn from the disputed border region, starting negotiations within two weeks, and opening humanitarian access to those affected by the conflict.
The resolution elaborates that the Security Council would review the rivals states' implementation of AU demands - that the neighbouring states halt hostilities in 48 hours, start talks within the prescribed two weeks, and complete a peace accord in three months - and could "take appropriate additional measures" under article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN charter, which allows for sanctions but not military force.
"The intention of the text was to provide swift and substantive support to the decisions of the African Union, in the form that the African Union requested," Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, said.
"But there were some members who either need more time to get guidance from their capitals or who are skeptical of the wisdom of going directly to a resolution."
But reports of fighting renewed on Friday, with South Sudan claiming tha Sudanese-backed rebel militia had attacked a town in the South's oil-producing Upper Nile state, threatening to broaden the conflict.
"A militia that is supported by the Sudanese Armed Forces attacked a place...near Malakal and the SPLA (South Sudanese army) has repulsed them," Philip Aguer, SPLA spokesman, said.
"There are no details on casualties, they are still being pursued," he said.
Sudan's army spokesman, al-Sawarmi Khalid, could not immediately be reached on his mobile phone.
Latest reports of fighting on Friday comes as Oxfam said that tens of thousands of refugees in South Sudan's Jamam camp needed to be urgently moved to a new site to escape life-threatening water shortages and fatal diseases.
Alun McDonald, Oxfam's spokesperson, said that the boreholes that provide the water for the camp in South Sudan's Upper Nile state can only serve 16,500 of the 37,000 refugees there.
Relief agencies also expect more refugees fleeing the recent South Sudan and Sudan border conflict will be taking up residence in Jamam, he said.
Princeton Lyman, US special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, told politicians on Capitol Hill on Thursday that such advances could only be made if the two nations took "a collaborative approach".
The US draft resolution come just days after the AU called on Sudan and South Sudan to withdraw their forces from Heglig, which the South had seized from Sudanese forces, and keep their troops within their respective borders.
The demand, made by the AU Peace and Security Council in a statement released after a council meeting late on Tuesday, came as South Sudan freed and handed 14 Sudanese prisoners of war to the International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday.
The AU also said the two neighbouring countries should stop issuing inflammatory statements and propaganda that could escalate the conflict.
Fighting along the 1,800 km contested border in what was once Africa's largest country erupted in late March after Sudan and South Sudan failed to resolve a number of contentious issues including oil export fees and citizenship.
The skirmishes have threatened to escalate into a full-blown conflict, which neither can afford. Both economies have suffered from the shutdown of most of their oil production as a result of the conflict.
South Sudan seized the contested Heglig oilfield earlier this month, on which Sudan relied for about half its oil output, but withdrew after immense international pressure. Juba has since then accused Khartoum of launching air strikes on its territory, a charge Sudan denies.
China and the African Union have stepped up diplomatic efforts in the past week to try to bring the rivals back to the negotiating table.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|