March 7,2013 (JUBA) - South Sudanese officials say that at least four people were killed when the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) carried out a ground attack on the border state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal on Wednesday and Thursday.
- SPLA soldiers pointing towards a circling Sudanese Antonov in Heglig on April 17, 2012 (file/Getty)
Several others sustained injuries and thousands of civilians have been forced to flee the area, multiple officials, including the Aweil North county commissioner, told Sudan Tribune.
Over the past few months, both sides have accused the other of amassing troops along the border, especially around contested areas, in contradiction to the undertakings the countries made in September last year to establish a demilltarised border buffer zone.
The reports from Northern Bahr el Ghazal coincides with a meeting of the Joint Political and Security Committee (JPSC) between Sudan and South Sudan, which began in Addis Ababa on Thursday. The two sides, will hold discussions on implementation of a buffer zone designed to avoid such clashes.
“There was an attack yesterday by the Sudanese Armed Forces. They tried to cross the [Kiir] river but the [South Sudan army] SPLA forces managed to push them away. They [the Sudanese military] also made another attempt this morning. Sudan is trying to instigate a military clash so that it spoils discussions which have resumed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia", the Aweil North Commissioner, Kuol Hal Athuai told Sudan Tribune.
He added that the Sudanese government "does not want peace completely. They believe in violence. This is what they are up to at the moment”.
Commissioner Athuai said the "planned attack" follows comments Sudan’s vice president, Al-Haj Adam made when he visited Ed Daein, the East Darfur capital last week. Adam was quoted as saying Khartoum would not allow South Sudan to claim any of the hotly disputed ’14 mile area’, and urged the African Union to pressure Juba on withdrawing its troops from the contested areas.
“I knew they would attack to implement what Sudanese vice president told [the] Reizigat community in Daein last week. He told them that government will not cede an inch of 14 mile area. So Sudanese armed forces were coming to take the area by force but our gallant SPLA forces as usual showed them their way”, he explained.
Mel Wal Achien, a lawmaker from Aweil North in South Sudan national assembly also confirmed the attack, which he said resulted in the killing and displacement of many civilians in the area.
“They came yesterday [Wednesday] in [a] different direction. They did not come through Kiir Adem this time. They came from another place until they managed to cross the river where they met with some of our SPLA soldiers on this side of the river. They actually wanted to launch a surprise attack from behind [the] positions held by our soldiers at Kiir Adem", Achien told Sudan Tribune in a separate interview.
At least four people, he further confirmed, were killed during the clash, but did not specify the numbers of those wounded.
Majang Ngor Kuany, another area MP in the national assembly, accused neigbouring Sudan of allegedly mobilising and arming Arabs tribes on the border to fight the SPLA alongside the Sudanese military.
However, when contacted, South Sudan information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said he had not yet received detailed information on the attack.
“We heard the report of the attack. Some lives have been lost but we do not have actual figures. We are still waiting for the detailed reports from authorities in the area”, Marial told Sudan Tribune on Thursday.
Minister Marial did not say whether the new attack would have any implications on the ongoing talks between the two sides in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but said South Sudan’s government is committed to protect the lives and properties of its citizens.
The two sides almost returned to full scale conflict in April last year when the SPLA briefly occupied another disputed territory, Heglig/Panthou, an oil-rich area which South Sudan says should lie in Unity state rather than South Kordofan.
The inclusion of ’Mile 14’ in the proposed border buffer zone caused consternation in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, despite the African Union and United Nations making clear that the location of the buffer zone would have no bearing on any final border settlement.
Implementation of the September Cooperation agreement, which covered oil and citizenship rights as well as security issues have stalled over Khartoum’s insistence that Juba sever all ties with Sudanese rebel groups - an allegation that is denied by South Sudan.