Amid dispute over oil, Sudan bombs South Sudanese towns

When South Sudan declared independence from Sudan, it took three quarters of the formerly united country's oil, which has since been a source of tension and conflict. 

Goran Tomasevic/REUTERS
A SPLA soldier walks in a market destroyed in an air strike by the Sudanese air force in Rubkona near Bentiu April 23. Sudanese warplanes carried out air strikes on South Sudan on Monday, killing three people near the southern oil town of Bentiu, residents and military officials said, three days after South Sudan pulled out of a disputed oil field.

Sudanese military planes reportedly bombed villages in South Sudan today, both escalating weeks of fighting on the border and ending hopes that Sudan would remove its troops from a contested region.

Initial reports indicate that the towns of Bentiu and Rubkona in South Sudan's Unity state were the targets of the bombardment. The bombing came on the heels of the pullout of South Sudanese forces from the oil-rich Heglig area at the center of recent fighting at the request of the United Nations.

The African Union is expected to meet later this week to discuss how to ease tensions between the two nations. Relations have been mostly peaceful but tense since South Sudan became independent last July. Khartoum officially welcomed the secession of the South, but internal disputes in each country – including the northern border states of Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and Abyei, and the southern state of Unity – have turned bloody. Each side accuses the other of starting proxy wars in the other's country. But at root of this conflict is the fact that “many issues were left unresolved, including security, borders, citizenship and nationality, and oil transit fees," the Sudan Tribune reports. 

According to Agence France-Presse, the recent violence in Heglig is the worst since South Sudan became independent

At the core of the conflict is access to oil. When South Sudan seceded, it took three quarters of the formerly united country’s oil supply, a serious economic blow to the north, reports CNN. Oil fields in the Heglig area account for about half of the north’s oil production.

Early last week, South Sudanese forces took control of the Heglig area after heavy fighting. The UN called the capture illegal and requested that South Sudan remove its troops to avoid further conflict. The seizure of the oil fields also caused South Sudan’s northern neighbor to pull out of post-secession negotiations, reports RTT. 

In 2009, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international organization determined that the Heglig area belonged to the north, according to The New York Times. Although South Sudan has now reportedly withdrawn its troops, the latest aerial bombardment is likely to provoke more fighting.

“Since yesterday and today, they have been bombing,” Barnaba Benjamin Marial, the South Sudanese information minister, told the Times. “There has also been a ground attack on our positions and we have the right to react.”

The bombing appears to have targeted a bridge that connects South Sudan to the border region, but the BBC reports that one bomb fell on a market, killing at least one boy and seriously wounding three other people. According to the BBC, the South is now amassing troops on the border and there is speculation that the north is doing the same.

South Sudanese government officialshave condemned the attack, further rattling sabers by calling the bombings a “serious escalation” and “a clear provocation.”

“Yesterday they (Sudan) attacked us, and then today they continue to attack us, what is next?” Lt. Gen. Obuto Mamur told Agence France-Presse. “We do not attack, but our soldiers are in their positions.”

Reports about the fighting are often difficult to verify because journalists and observers have limited access to the frontlines. The recent fighting appears to have caused serious damage to oil extraction facilities there. 

Get daily or weekly updates from delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.