Sudan on Thursday threatened to shut its border with South Sudan just weeks after reopening crossings, accusing Juba of backing insurgents battling Khartoum.
South Sudan split from Sudan in 2011 under a peace deal that ended a 22-year civil war, but Juba and Khartoum have traded allegations the other is supporting rebels on their territory, which both deny.
“If the government of South Sudan does not stop supporting the insurgents, we might take measures to protect the security of our country and we might even close the border with South Sudan again,” Ibrahim Mahmoud, a senior aide to President Omar al-Bashir, told reporters after officials met African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki in Khartoum.
Bashir ordered the reopening of the frontier with South Sudan on January 27 after years of tense relations between the countries, including disputes over several border areas.
Sudan’s cabinet also said it had decided to change the special status accorded to nearly 200,000 South Sudanese who have taken shelter from their country’s civil war in Sudan since December 2013.
The South Sudanese had not been granted refugee status but were theoretically entitled to the same rights as Sudanese citizens and received the same access to healthcare, education and other basic services.
The cabinet said it “decided to verify the identity of citizens of South Sudan staying in the country by taking legal measures against anyone who does not have a passport and an entry visa for Sudan within a week”.
It was unclear exactly what the change would mean, although the cabinet said in a statement online that South Sudanese in Sudan would be treated as “foreigners regarding receiving health, education and other services”.
The Khartoum office of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said late on Thursday it was seeking clarification from the Sudanese government about what the changes entail.
The comments came ahead of an AU-mediated meeting from Friday in Addis Ababa between Sudanese officials and rebels from South Kordofan, Blue Nile and the western Darfur regions to discuss the conflicts in Sudan’s border regions.
There has been a surge in fighting between Sudanese troops and allied militia in South Kordofan state, which borders South Sudan, and Blue Nile state, in recent weeks.