Sudan's army denies aircraft downed in S. Kordofan

12 June, 2011 (Reuters)

Sudan's army denied on Sunday that any military aircraft were shot down in the border state of Southern Kordofan, where the northern military has been fighting armed groups for more than a week.

An official from the Southern Kordofan branch of the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM), the south's dominant party, said on Saturday fighters had downed two northern warplanes in the state.

South Sudan is less than a month away from breaking off into an independent country, but fighting around the country's ill-defined north-south border has raised fears the two sides could return to open conflict.

The two sides have yet to agree on a number of sensitive issues, including the status of the disputed Abyei region, and how to share oil revenues and the national debt.

The north's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and the south's President Salva Kiir were due to meet in Addis Ababa on Sunday to discuss the status of Abyei and other unresolved issues.

Clashes in the northern oil state of Southern Kordofan, which borders the country's south, broke out on June 5 and have since escalated to include aircraft and artillery. The United Nations has estimated tens of thousands have fled the fighting.

Analysts see Southern Kordofan as a flashpoint because it is home to many fighters, largely from the Nuba mountains region, who sided with the south during the last civil war.

In a statement, northern army spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khaled accused the SPLM of interfering in "northern affairs" in Southern Kordofan and said the northern army was working to restore stability in the state.

"It is not true at all that aircraft belonging to the armed forces were shot down in the area," he added.

South Sudan opted to secede in a January vote which had been promised by a 2005 north-south peace deal. The two sides warred for decades over oil, religion, ethnicity and ideology.

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