By Bonifacio Taban Kuich
April 23, 2012 (BENTIU) - Sudan Armed Force (SAF) warplanes carried out an intensive bombardment of the Unity State capital town of Bentiu and neighbouring Rubkotna, Sudan Tribune’s reporter says.
- A picture taken on April 14, 2012 shows burned houses in Bentiu after a bomb fell beside a car market (AFP)
The attacks by Mig 29 fighters started at 8:50 am.
A Reuters reporter at the scene, outside the oil town of Bentiu, said he saw a fighter aircraft drop two bombs near a river bridge between Bentiu and Rubkona.
"I can see market stalls burning in Rubkona in the background and the body of a small child burning," he said.
Bombs targeting the key bridge in the town landed some 50 metres away from an Agence France Presse (AFP) reporter. In the market, stalls were on fire and large plumes of grey smoke rose high into the air, as screaming civilians ran in panic.
One charred body of a small boy was seen by an AFP reporter, while market traders said that three civilians had been killed, although those figures could not be immediately verified.
- Rubkotna Market in Unity State, South Sudan after it was bombed by the Sudanese air force, 23 April 2012 (ST)
News of the bombing come at the heels of the worst fighting between the armies of the two countries over the oil rich town of Heglig which lies inside Sudan’s South Kordofan state.
South Sudan took over the town from SAF almost two weeks ago before losing it to Khartoum on Friday.
Juba says it withdrew voluntarily upon orders from president Salva Kiir while Khartoum insists that it managed to flush out South Sudan army (SPLA) out.
On Sunday, SPLA deputy military intelligent director Maj. Paul Mac Bol said that another fresh attack by SAF took place inside South Sudan territory.
"Sudanese Armed Forces launched ground and aerial bombardments on SPLA positions in Unity State, Teshwin, Unity oil field, Lalop and Panakuach on Sunday afternoon," the SPLA deputy of militarily intelligence told Sudan Tribune.
“Of course we withdrew [from Heglig] after the decision that was taken by the council of ministers and the government of South Sudan because we are here accountable to the government so we executed the order immediately, so we came to Teshwin where we are supposed to have our defenses. Today at around 10:00am they sent about ten Toyota mounted guns as a reconnaissance. They had an engagement with our troops”, said Bol.
Rubkona Military hospital in Bentui received two wounded and one dead soldier on Sunday, AP reported.
The SPLA official added that Khartoum is not complying with recent international calls for both sides to refrain from hostility. He claimed that despite SAF attacks on Sunday by ground and air, South Sudan managed to repulse them back and seize Toyota land cruiser from SAF.
He stressed that South Sudan government is not planning for war but willing to negotiate with Sudanese government.
“We have not been planning for war because we believe we signed an agreement and we managed to implement an agreement together and we thought that the remaining issues to be resolved through dialogue .....but our brothers in the North think if we don’t accept what they are saying then there is need for second round [of war] and you could see this from the statement of president [Bashir] ”, the deputy SPLA intelligence officer added.
South Sudan’s Vice president, Riek Machar, on Sunday morning warned that if the SPLA was attacked as it withdrew or if SAF launched further attacks inside South Sudanese territory they would move to retake Heglig by force and defend the 1956 borders, referring to the border as left at the end of Anglo-Egyptian rule.
The SPLA intelligence official also claimed that "militias" were involved in the assault referring to the Sudan South Liberation Army (SSLA) a rebel group in Unity State that Juba says is backed by Khartoum.
SSLA claimed that they captured Lalop garrison on Sunday and that their forces will continue their march towards Bentiu.
"Under the command of Maj. Gen. Kolchara Nyang, ten thousands SSLA forces are now matching towards Manga, a resort town of Governor Taban Deng Gai. Within few days, our forces will liberate Bentiu town and free its people from Taban Deng Gai and Salva Kiir" their statement read.
"Our forces captured many military trucks and destroyed some in the fighting. A Hino truck with Plate No 1732 SPLA HQ is in good condition and is being used by our forces. A land Cruiser captured in good condition has a plate no 01402 SPLA HQ. The Hino and the land cruiser belonged to Commando Division and Division Four respectively. A T-72 tank with plate no 084 was also captured in good condition".
There was no immediate comment from South Sudan government or SPLA.
Interview with the speaker of Unity State’s Legislative Assembly Simon Maguek Gai.