Sudan troops say they are not aggressors

AFP , Wednesday 25 Apr 2012

South Sudan's president has accused his northern neighbour of declaring war, while the forces loyal to Sudan say they only "defend their land"

South Sudan's president has accused his northern neighbour of declaring war but soldiers in this region scarred by recent battles say they are simply defending their borders.

"If we want to go to the South now we can... but that is not our plan," said Zaki Al Ahmad, a fast-talking member of the Popular Defence Force (PDF), at a collection of straw huts serving as their base in this oil region about 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the disputed border.

"We are just defending our property. We don't want to attack them," said one bearded fighter, speaking four days after Sudan announced its troops forced out South Sudanese who had occupied the north's main oilfield of Heglig for 10 days.

The South, however, said its troops withdrew in a process that ended on Sunday.

"Welcome to liberated Heglig. God bless the martyrs who spilled their blood," announced a crewman aboard an aircraft flying in journalists on a four-hour government run trip to the region which is normally off-limits to reporters.

A village near the airport has been almost completely burned to the ground.

"Now our forces are settled on the borders of 1956," said Mohammed Khalil, 23, describing himself as a "mujahid" who volunteered for the PDF, a mainstay of Sudan's fighting corps.

Sudan has demanded that the South recognise the borders which existed at Sudan's independence from Britain and Egypt on January 1, 1956.

Khalil, who normally works as an engineer in the capital Khartoum, said troops will stay in Heglig "until we feel safe and our borders are safe."

Over the frontier in South Sudan's Unity state, Sudanese warplanes left several people wounded from air strikes that continued into the early hours of Tuesday, the state's governor Taban Deng said.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the air raids as "provocative and unacceptable", and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir accused Sudan of declaring war.

A senior officer in his army alleged Sudan was mobilising for a push on the city of Bentiu, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Heglig.

"We don't like war," the Sudanese armed forces commander, Kamal Marouf, said in Heglig.

A manager at the damaged main oil facility, Ibrahim Yousif Gamil, said there were actually fewer troops now than in recent days.

"The presence of the army is to the minimum now," he said.

Still, soldiers are about the only people visible in this flat region dotted with acacia trees.

Pickup trucks with troops standing behind machine guns speed along the main road, throwing up clouds of red dust that sting the eyes.

Troops have set up crude camps, and more than 100 green crates of military equipment are stacked beside one building.

PDF pickup trucks are crammed with ammunition, rifles, shovels, and mounted rocket propelled grenade launchers.

"Don't ask about the weapons," one fighter with a cloth tied around his head admonished an AFP reporter.

In the far distance, an explosion sounded.

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