War fears after Sudan, S Sudan clashes

2012-03-28 14:43

Juba - Sudanese warplanes hit South Sudan's oil-rich border region in a third day of violence between the rival states, as international concern mounted over a return to an all-out war.

Fighting on the ground had reportedly ceased on both sides of the undemarcated border but dead bodies and destroyed tanks lay strewn in Sudan's contested oil centre of Heglig, the site of bloody battles that began on Monday.

Smoke still rose from a damaged residence at the battle scene, said an AFP correspondent who saw three bodies.

"The ground assaults this morning have stopped but they [Sudan] have still been bombing us in the night," said Gideon Gatpan, information minister for the South's Unity state, which borders Heglig and the scene of heavy battles.

"There was bombing in Panakwach, 35km from Bentiu," the state capital, Gatpan said, adding there were no reports of casualties.

Sudanese warplanes on Monday launched air raids on newly independent South Sudan, while the rival armies clashed in heavy battles.

Both sides claim the other started the fighting, the worst since South Sudan declared independence from Khartoum last July after decades of civil war.

The African Union and the UN Security Council have called for an end to the violence, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Khartoum bore the responsibility for the renewed hostilities.


The pan-African body said on Wednesday it was deeply concerned at an "escalating security situation" on the border between the former civil war foes, and called for troops to pull back 10km either side of the border.

The unrest jeopardises efforts to resolved contentious border and oil disputes that have ratcheted up tensions between Juba and Khartoum.

Both sides have said they do not want the clashes to escalate.

"We are not for the war now, and we are not going to widen the war area," he said, adding Sudan is only on the "defensive," said Sudanse foreign ministry spokesman Al-Obeid Meruh.

Juba said northern bombers and troops had struck first on Monday, moving into Unity State before Southern troops fought back and took the Heglig oil field, parts of which are claimed by both countries.

Sudan later retook the field.

"Heglig and all around it is completely secure," Bashir Meki, the Sudanese local army commander, told an AFP reporter who visited the region with Sudan's Oil Minister Awad Ahmad al-Jaz.

Both Heglig - about 15km from the disputed border's closest point - and Unity state oil fields are run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a consortium led by China's state oil giant CNPC.

The AU has been mediating between the rivals to resolve contentious issues following South Sudan's independence, including demarcating the frontier and oil pipeline transit fees.


Southern soldiers were on high alert along the border fearing fresh attacks.

"There are still tensions and soldiers are preparing in case of fresh assault - we are expecting more bombing," Gatpan told AFP.

Rebel forces that both Juba and Khartoum accuse are backed by the other were also reported to have joined in the fighting, and AU Commission chief Jean Ping Ping called for a "halting of any support to rebel forces."

Khartoum's army spokesperson accused rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) from Sudan's western Darfur region of joining in the fight to target Sudanese troops, claims the rebels denied.

In addition, Southern rebels - from the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), a militia force Juba claims is armed by Khartoum - said they had taken part in the attack on Southern troops, boasting they had killed several.

More than two million people died in Sudan's 1983-2005 civil war between Khartoum and southern rebels before a peace agreement which led to South Sudan's independence.