April 23, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan’s vice president Riek Machar said Monday that South Sudan was for a peaceful resolution to the border conflict with neighbouring Sudan but warned that should Khartoum continue with its acts of aggression, Juba will respond in kind.
- A woman whose son was killed by SAF bombing in Rubkotna town in Unity State crying on ground, 23 April 2012 (ST)
The South Sudanese army (SPLA) pulled out of the contested oil region of Heglig on Friday having occupied the area for 10 days amid international condemnation. However, Khartoum have claimed that in fact the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) forced the SPLA to pull out of the area killing over 1,000 of their soldiers. This figure is denied by Juba.
According to Juba, SAF then carried out ground attacks inside South Sudan and launched an aerial bombardment of Unity State including the capital Bentiu. Witnesses say three people including young boy were killed in the attack.
Machar said that if SAF’s attacks on South Sudan continued the country, which only seceded from Sudan in July last year, would be forced to recapture Heglig by force.
He explained that South Sudan was willing to resolve the outstanding post-independence issues peacefully including the demarcation of the borders between the two countries.
Negotiations between the two sides were called off by Khartoum earlier this month after the Heglig fighting erupted, scuppering deals that was to be signed by the countries presidents on citizenship and security issues.
Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir has said last week that he intends to remove the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) from power in Juba and his First Vice President Ali Osman Taha said that talks would not resume anytime soon suggesting that his government would not be able to negotiate with the SPLM.
On a visit to Heglig on Monday Bashir ruled out talks with South Sudan.
"We will not negotiate with the South’s government, because they don’t understand anything but the language of the gun and ammunition," Reuters reported Bashir as saying.
According to AFP news agency Kamal Marouf, a Sudanese military commander, said that SAF killed 1,000 SPLA soldiers in process of retaking Heglig. AFP’s correspondent said the number of dead bodies wearing SPLA military uniforms was "uncountable".
Sudanese state TV reported that Bashir told Sudanese troops in the area that Heglig’s the vultures "have been well fed and are relaxing in the shade under the trees".
However, South Sudan’s Information Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, denied the figures of casualties in statements to the BBC. He claimed that "not even a single SPLA soldier" had been killed.
Machar said that if Khartoum had chosen war and the international community could not restrain it, Juba was capable of defending itself militarily and should retake Heglig by force as well as liberate the other occupied territories across the 1,800 kilometer north-south border.
The two sides were unable to agree on the border during the six year peace deal that ended in July last year when South Sudan became independent. However, many parts of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement have not been implemented and post-partition issues including how much Juba should pay Khartoum to export southern crude through Sudan’s infrastructure.
Bashir said, after South Sudan’s occupation of Heglig, that he would no longer allow South Sudan’s oil to pass through Sudan. Khartoum needs the revenue, however, to aide its struggling economy.
In other comments last week Bashir described the SPLM government as "insects" that needed to be crushed vowing to teach the nine-month-old country a lesson.
According to Juba SAF attacked the SPLA as it was withdrawing from the area.
Machar criticised the international community for forcing South Sudan to unconditionally withdraw its forces from Heglig without first securing a ceasefire with Sudan.
In direct reference to President Bashir’s recent rhetoric Machar, while addressing a large jubilant crowd in Juba on Sunday, said Bashir’s forces ran away from South Sudan’s "insects" in Heglig despite his aerial bombardments.
On a different occasion Machar revealed that SAF’s 25,000 troops who were amassed to defend Heglig town and surrounding oilfields were dislodged from the area by the SPLA on April 10. That the Sudanese military were so easily forced out of Heglig and were prevented from retaking it for over a week was a major embarrassment to Khartoum.
SPLA head of information, Brig. Gen. Malaak Ayuen, said South Sudan’s army had captured over 120 military vehicles including a number of tanks from Khartoum’s forces during their 10-day confrontation.
Machar further added that the SPLA repulsed SAF’s attempt on Saturday to capture the SPLA’s position in Teshwin south of Heglig.
The SAF forces, he said, were driven back to Heglig, but the SPLA did not get the order to re-enter the town and therefore returned to their previous position in Teshwin.
He explained that Heglig/Panthou, like the other locations occupied by Khartoum along the yet-to-be-demarcated border, belong to South Sudan.
“If it comes to war, we will retake Heglig and liberate our lands and demarcate the borders,” he said.