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South accuses Sudan of launching attack ahead of Bashir’s visit

April 1, 2013 (JUBA) - South Sudan on Monday accused neighbouring Sudan of "deliberately" launching a new ground attack on its border state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, underlying the level of suspicion with which the two countries still view each other, despite a recent thawing of relations.

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South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir wave to the crowd during the Independence Day ceremony (Reuters)

Local authorities and security sources said in series of interviews with Sudan Tribune on Sunday that the attack took place in Kiir Adem, an area that falls within the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ) which the two sides agreed to establish under African Union mediation in September last year, but only implemented recently.

One policeman was killed and seven others reportedly wounded during the attack.

The spokesperson of South Sudan’s army (SPLA), Phillip Aguer, said the attack was "quickly repulsed by the police".

He expressed confidence in the South Sudan’s police forces, which have remained in the area despite the military’s withdrawal, but added that the SPLA will intervene if the police feel the situation goes beyond their control.

“The SPLA is closely monitoring this situation and will respond appropriately when police feel they can no longer handle it. At the moment we call on the UN peacekeeping forces, especially the United Nations Interim Force for Abyei (UNISFA), which are supposed to take charge in monitoring armed activities in these areas to take up their job more seriously," Aguer said.

They should ensure these areas are free from military activities, he added.

Under the bilateral Cooperation Agreement, UNISFA is expected to expand its operations from the disputed oil-producing region of Abyei to the whole of the north-south border along with military officials from both North and South Sudan.

James Monday, the spokesperson of South Sudan Police, also confirmed the attack, but said the situation was brought “under control” and that the police are ready to protect the lives and properties of the population in the area.

The commissioner for Aweil North County, Kuol Athuai Hal, said the attack was jointly organised by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), armed Arab nomads and paramilitary forces.

“This attack did not come as a surprise to us and the people of the area. We knew it would happen especially after they were defeated on 26 of March when they launched a similar attack. We also do not think that this attack will be the last," Hal told Sudan Tribune by phone Sunday.

He anticipates attacks could occur, given what he describes as a political scheme by the Sudan government "designed to execute in order to claim territory control and eventual annexation into territory”.

Mel Wal Achien, an area representative in the country’s national legislative assembly strongly condemned the “barbaric and hawkish style behaviour” deployed by the Khartoum regime on the young nation.

“This hawkish mentality, the practice of hit and run shows clearly the behaviour of the government of Sudan. This is the government which believes in violence. It does not value peace," he said in a separate interview Sunday.

The lawmaker urged the international community to hold Sudan responsible for the lost lives, despite the signing of the implementation matrix and the subsequent pulling out of the SPLA forces from the border area.

The attack, he further said, was a plot to deter the civilian population from concentrating on agricultural activities in the area during rainy season.

Sudan and South Sudan, early this month, agreed on the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of forces to their side within two weeks, to allow for establishment of a safe demilitarized border zone.

The two neighbours, in the presence of the African Union mediators, also committed themselves to the deployment of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM) and the activation of all security related mechanisms, effective from 10 March.