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Ban Ki-moon condemns Sudanese air raid on South Sudan

Category: Headlines

Published: 24th Apr 2012 01:40:44

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned Sudan's bombardment of a border area in South Sudan.

Mr Ban called on "the government of Sudan to cease all hostilities immediately", saying there could be no no military solution" to the two countries' simmering border dispute.

On Monday Sudanese warplanes dropped bombs near the South Sudanese town of Bentiu, witnesses said.

Earlier, Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir ruled out talks with South Sudan.

Mr Bashir was speaking while visiting the oil field and border town of Heglig, which South Sudanese troops had occupied for nearly two weeks.

South Sudan says its forces withdrew from Heglig, but Sudan says it expelled them, killing 1,000 soldiers.

"We will not negotiate with the South's government, because they don't understand anything but the language of the gun and ammunition," Reuters news agency quoted Mr Bashir as telling troops on his arrival in Heglig.

First came the throbbing noise of a jet engine. Then the dull thump of one, then several, explosions.

People ran into sturdy buildings. Others, cooler, sauntered into the shade, sure this was not their time to die. From all over Bentiu came the irregular chatter of small arms fire, as soldiers and men in uniform tried to take out the warplane.

The men continued to fire for some time after the sky was clear. It was a futile, one-way conversation. But the jets did not achieve their aim either - the bridge that links Bentiu to Rubkona, and then the oil fields and the disputed border from the north, is still intact.

As on several previous failed attempts, civilians suffered from the bridge's good fortune. At least one was killed, his body a grotesque, mangled lump, in Rubkona market. It is far enough from the bridge for everyone here to believe this was a deliberate attempt to target civilians.

The past few months have seen sporadic fighting in the oil-rich areas along the two countries' undemarcated border, prompting concern the violence could escalate into a full-blown war.

Mr Ban called on Mr Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir "to stop the slide toward further confrontation and... to return to dialogue as a matter of urgency".

US President Barack Obama has said both countries "must have the courage" to return to the negotiating table and resolve their differences peacefully.

However, Sudan's ambassador to the UN Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman accused the South of "aggression" and said his country had the right to defend itself.

"We have been targeted by... the South. We have every right to militarily repel that attack and aggression," Mr Osman told the BBC's World Today programme.

"Let me make it clear: we will not cross the international border and attack the south... inside their territories," he added.

Sudan's military commander Kamal Marouf said that 1,000 southern soldiers had been killed during the fighting for Heglig, reports the AFP news agency, whose correspondent saw an "uncountable" number of dead bodies wearing South Sudanese military uniforms.

But these casualty figures were rejected by South Sudan's Information Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, who told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that "not even a single SPLA soldier have they killed".

The air raid by Sudanese forces on the South Sudanese border town of Bentiu killed at least one person, according to witnesses.

Taban Deng, governor of Unity state, said the bombs fell on a key bridge, which leads to the border, and a market between the state capital Bentiu and the nearby town of Rubkona.

The witnesses described seeing a huge plume of smoke rising from a market and the body of a dead boy.

Mr Deng said that three civilians had also been critically wounded in the raid and were not expected to survive.

South Sudan's deputy head of intelligence, Mac Paul, described the bombing as a "declaration of war", according to the Associated Press.

The UN Security Council demanded that South Sudan withdraw its forces from Heglig and the neighbouring Abyei regions, as well as a "complete, immediate, unconditional" end to all fighting.

It also called on Sudan to stop aerial bombing raids on South Sudanese territory.

On Sunday, South Sudan's army said its withdrawal from the area was complete.

Satellite pictures of the Heglig area released on Sunday suggest key oil installations were badly damaged in the fighting and are no longer operating.

Meanwhile, South Sudan's President Kiir has arrived in China for a six-day visit during which he will meet his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao.

China has traditionally been an ally of diplomatically-isolated Sudan, but observers say Chinese officials are likely to push for an end to hostilities between the two countries.

The former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) has governed South Sudan since it seceded from Sudan after an overwhelming vote in favour of independence in a July 2011 referendum.

The vote was the outcome of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which put an end to the 22-year civil war between the former north and south of Sudan. About 1.5 million people are though to have lost their lives in the conflict.

The new state took most of the former united Sudan's oil reserves with it, but relies on pipelines to seaports in Sudan to export it.

In January, South Sudan decided to shut down oil production, which provides 98% of the government's revenue, after Khartoum impounded South Sudanese oil shipments amid a dispute over transit fees.

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. The residents of war-affected Darfur and South Sudan are still greatly dependent on food aid. Far more than in northern states, which tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

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BBC News, 2012. Ban Ki-moon condemns Sudanese air raid on South Sudan [Online] (Updated 24th Apr 2012)
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