December 26, 2012 (WAU) - Five people died on Wednesday when the Sudan Armed Forces attacked the South Sudanese state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal by ground and by air, according to the Southern military and residents in the area.
- Philip Aguer (AP)
Authorities say that 20 bombs were dropped in the attack, which began at around 11:30am and carried on until 6:30pm, in the contested Kiir Adem area, the spokesperson of the South Sudanese army (SPLA), Colonel Philip Aguer said.
The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) "used ground and aerial bombardments" to kill "innocent civilians", he said in a statement broadcast by state-owned South Sudan Television (SSTV) on Wednesday.
SPLA forces in Kiir Adem "repulsed" SAF ground attacks on six occasions remaining in control of their positions, according to Aguer. The wounded were transported to Gokmachar - the administrative headquarters of Aweil North County.
South Sudan’s army was capable of defending the territorial integrity of the country, he said, telling citizens of Northern Bahr el Ghazal that the SPLA “will never let them down" in defending them.
The military officer said the SPLA’s headquarters in Juba was still receiving details about the attack but said three lives were lost in the bombing. However the Commissioner of Aweil North, Kuol Athuai Hal, said that five people died.
Sudan’s military six times “launched well organized and coordinated attacks today" but were pushed back by the SPLA, the Commissioner told Sudan Tribune from Gokmachar.
According to the Commissioner, SAF were attempting to take control of a bridge in Kiir Adem "but our forces as usual stood their ground and pushed the invading forces away. He said that the Sudanese forces have retreated to Majok Deng in order to regroup.
Further, The SPLA’s fifth division commander in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, Major General Santino Deng Wol, also confirmed the clash and said the intention of the Sudanese armed forces is to dislodge his forces in the area.
"Sudan Armed Forces and their Riziegat militias attacked Kiir Adem this morning but they were pushed back. Their air-force dropped bombs killing five people including two children and three women. One person was injured and was evacuated to Aweil hospital."
In Khartoum Sudanese army, which accuse Juba of backing the rebel groups, did not make any comment on the attack. All the attention was focused on the talks between the visiting Ethiopian prime minister and the Sudanese president over the outstanding issues and implementation of security arrangements.
South Sudanese Ambassador in Khartoum Mayan Dut Wol was received today by the Sudanese Vice-President Adam Al-Haj in his office at the presidency.
Ambassador Wol told the official agency SUNA that the meeting discussed the implementation of the Cooperation Agreement and stressed the commitment of his government to continue negotiations through the joint political and security committee.
Since South Sudan’s independence last year Khartoum has periodically denied bombing southern territory, claiming that it has only attacked areas used by Sudanese rebels on the contested border between the two nations.
However, the United Nations and independent journalists in April witnessed bombings take place as far into South Sudan as Bentui - the capital Unity State - earlier this year, during the conflict over the disputed Heglig/Panthou oil region.
The Sudanese air force normally try to attack bridges and other infrastructure that they believe are being used to support rebels north of the border. The crude soviet-era Antonov’s used by Khartoum are notoriously inaccurate as bombs are manually thrown out the back of the plane.
Commissioner Hal said the SPLA, despite one solider being wounded, "have inflicted heavy loses on the attacking forces".
In South Sudan’s capital, Juba, the minister of information, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, described the incident as an “unwarranted wanton attack”.
"The government of the Republic of South Sudan condemned this aggression. This behaviour by the government of Sudan contravenes the Cooperation Agreement which the two presidents signed in September”, Marial said in a televised statement.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his Sudanese counterpart Omer Al-Bashir signed the deal after months of African Union-mediate negotiations, while under the threat of sanctions from the United Nations Security Council.
The Cooperation Agreement did not address resolving the status of disputed areas or border demarcation but did allow for a demilitarized buffer zone to be established 10km either side of a border line put forward by the AU mediation.
The location of the AU-proposed border, by which the buffer would be based, was initially rejected by both capitals despite the Security Council’s of both the UN and AU stating that it was non-binding and would have no impact on any final resolution of the border issue.
The buffer zone agreed in September designates Kiir Adem, which lies in the contested 14 Mile area between Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Sudan’s South Kordofan State, as part of the buffer zone.
Community leaders and politicians from the Dinka Malual ethnic group have rejected the inclusion of 14 Mile in the buffer zone, claiming that the ownership of the area has never been in dispute. Northern Bahr el Ghazal’s Governor Paul Malong Awan Anei is among those who has vowed to fight to defend the area if Sudan attempts to take it by force.
The implementation of the deal has stalled over security issues, with Juba claiming that Khartoum has made "impossible" additional demands, such as disarming northern armed groups who were alligned to the SPLA during the civil war and handing over details of Sudanese citizens who have applied to join the southern army.
Minister Marial said Sudan lacked the commitment to implement the Cooperation Agreement and accused the northern military of trying to provoke a retaliation from SPLA forces in order to trigger a "meaningless and unjust war" between the two countries.
“We have communicated this behaviour to the African Union and Security Council of the United Nations. Our representatives have been asked to lodge official complaints to the AU and UNSC”, Marial said.
The senior government official called on the citizens of Northern Bahr el Ghazal to remain in calm and vowed that defense of the territorial integrity of the new nation remains the top duty of the SPLA forces in the country.
Mel Wal Achien MP, who represents Aweil North in South Sudan’s parliament said three women a child and a man were killed in the aerial attack.
“The international community continues to keep quiet while the government of Sudan is killing innocent civilians. When are they going to talk? Why Sudan is allowed to kill without being asked and held accountable?”, he said.
Achien told Sudan Tribune that he wondered why the international community continues to keep quiet.
The former Aweil North County Commissioner, Deng Thiep Akok, also accused the international community of siding with Sudan. He urged young men from the area and the army to defend the country from being invaded by foreign forces.
“Nobody will come from anywhere to defend this country. It is us, especially our youth to enlist in the army and defend this land just as we did during the struggle. The peace that brought independence did not come without sacrifices. It was signed after [an estimated two million] lives were lost. The same is what is required”, he said
Akok urged the government to make defence a top priority, asserting that Sudan was not interested in a peaceful resolution of the many outstanding issues related to South Sudan’s independence. Khartoum was only interested in annex contested areas by force, he said.
"The government must call on our youth to massively enlist. More military camps should be opened for our youth to enlist and join military service", he said.
Akok accused Sudan of backing political and military dissidents who were fighting to remove the SPLM from power.
Such accusations are regularly made by Southern politicians and military figures but are always denied by Khartoum.
"An unjust war is being imposed on us every time. Sudan wants war. They do not need peace. Everything has already been said about this war of aggression by Sudan", he said.