Officials from Sudan and South Sudan are set to meet in the Ethiopian capital on Thursday in a bid by the African Union (AU) to end ongoing clashes and prevent an all-out war between the two neighbours.
The pan-African body on Wednesday said it was deeply concerned by an "escalating security situation" on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, and called for troops to pull back 10km on either side of the border.
Ties between the two neighbours had been tense ever since South Sudan was carved out of Sudan as an independent country last year.
The current dispute is centred around the sharing of oil wealth, and both countries blame each other for the recent clashes around the town of Heglig.
Following AU's intervention, however, both sides said they were ready to engage in talks.
Rahamatalla Mohamed Osman, Sudan's under-secretary of foreign affairs, said he was in Addis Ababa "to represent my country in the negotiations... with regards to security along the border".
Osman said Khartoum did not want a war with the South, but warned "if they want to accelerate, we will defend ourselves."
South Sudan's top negotiator Pagan Amum also voiced optimism over the talks.
"What we expect to achieve is the cessation of hostilities," Amum said to the AFP news agency in a telephone interview from the South Sudanese capital, Juba.
"We will stop the fighting that is there, and ensure that this does not erupt into war between the two countries."
Amum urged both sides to "rescue the positive spirit" of earlier talks, and said he remained confident fighting would stop after the meeting.
A Sudanese army spokesman said on Wednesday that the situation was calm on the front where fighting had been occurring.
The AU and the UN Security Council have called for an end to the violence. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said Khartoum bore the responsibility for the renewed hostilities.
The European Union also joined in a call for the end to clashes between the neighbouring nations.
"Recent cross-border attacks and continued aerial bombing represent a dangerous escalation of an already tense situation," a statement from the office of Catherine Ashton, foreign policy chief for the European Union, read.
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|William A. Cook|