South Sudan accuses Khartoum of air strikes, troop incursion

AFP , Thursday 1 Mar 2012

An air assault is carried out against South Sudanese facilities, making it the first time MiG's are reportedly used, while the Khartoum government denies claims of such attacks

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Northern military spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khaled speaks during a joint news conference in Khartoum May 2011 (Photo: Reuters)

Sudanese fighter jets have bombed oil and water wells deep inside South Sudan and its ground troops have crossed into contested oil-rich border regions, South Sudan officials said Thursday.

But Khartoum swiftly denied the claims.

Border tensions have mounted since South Sudan split from Sudan in July after decades of war to become the world's newest nation, with each side accusing the other of backing proxy rebel forces against it.

"They have flown into our territory 74 kilometres (46 miles) and are violating South Sudanese airspace," South Sudan Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said of the air strikes Wednesday.

Sudanese ground troops had also moved 17 kilometres inside South Sudan's oil-rich Unity state, army spokesman Philip Aguer said.

Khartoum and Juba dispute areas along the undemarcated border.

South Sudan has accused the north of carrying out several recent bombing raids in frontier regions, but the claims have been denied by the Sudanese army.

"Two MiG (fighter jets) bombed Panakuat in Pariang county," Aguer told AFP on Thursday, adding two bombs struck an oil well and a drinking water well.

"Khartoum... have been bombing South Sudan since last year, but this is the first time MiGs have come," Aguer said, adding that previous attacks had been far less accurate bombs rolled out the back of Antonov aircraft.

Sudanese army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad dismissed the latest accusations by the South.

"This information is completely incorrect—they have to show the evidence about the bombing or our troops going 17 kilometres inside the border," Saad told AFP in Khartoum.

The region borders Sudan's Southern Kordofan state where rebels—once part of the ex-guerrilla turned official South Sudanese army—are battling the Khartoum government forces.

"They say that we are supporting wars in their territory and it's simply not true," Benjamin said.

"The government is in a position to protect its citizens and territory, but it will not be dragged back to a senseless war."

South Sudan took three quarters of Sudan's oil reserves, but all pipeline and export facilities are controlled by the north.

The South halted oil production in January—stopping the flow of the resource that accounts for 98 percent of government revenue—after Juba accused Khartoum of stealing $815 million worth of crude oil.

Last month the two sides signed a non-aggression pact agreeing to "respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity" and to "refrain from launching any attack, including bombardment."

Juba accused Khartoum of breaking the accord by bombing border regions just days later.

Last month UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned that tensions between the two nations could escalate if the oil crisis is not resolved.

The South has demanded that any deal includes settlement on the undemarcated border, parts of which cut through oil fields, as well on Abyei, a Lebanon-sized region claimed by both sides but occupied by northern troops.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also Wednesday accused Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of trying to undermine South Sudan and "undo the results the comprehensive peace agreement" that led to its creation.

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