Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the Government of Southern Sudan. Photo by Spencer Platt
Sudanese warplanes bombed a market and an oil field in South Sudan, killing at least two people after Sudanese ground forces had reportedly crossed into South Sudan with tanks and artillery, elevating the risk of all-out war between the two old enemies.
The international community urged Sudan and South Sudan to talk out their disputes, which include arguments over where the border lies and over ownership of oil resources.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the Sudanese bombings Monday and called on the government in Khartoum "to cease all hostilities immediately," U.N. deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said.
Ban stressed again that the dispute cannot be solved militarily and urged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir "to stop the slide towards further confrontation and ... return to dialogue as a matter of urgency," the spokesman said.
But al-Bashir vowed Monday to press ahead with his military campaign until all southern troops or affiliated forces are chased out of the north.
The bombs fell from two MiG 29 jets onto Rubkona's market Monday with a whistling sound, turning stalls where food and other household items are sold into fiery heaps of twisted metal. The burned body of the boy lay flat on his back near the center of the blast site, his hand clutching at the sky.
South Sudan military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said two were killed in that attack and nine wounded.
Aguer said Antonov bombers accompanied by MiG 29 jets also bombed Abiemnom in Unity State and the Unity State oil field. He said Abiemnom is a two-hour drive from Rubkona. Amid poor communications, the extent of damage at the oil field was not immediately known, nor whether there were casualties. Fighting between ground troops, which started Sunday, was still ongoing in Panakuac, Laloba and Teshwin, Aguer said.
In Rubkona, trucks packed with South Sudanese troops sped off in the direction where the bombs landed as the soldiers fired at the Sudanese jets.
"The bombing amounts to a declaration of war," said Maj. Gen. Mac Paul, the Deputy Director of Military Intelligence for South Sudan.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday the U.S. strongly condemns Sudan's military incursion into South Sudan, and called for the immediate halt of aerial and artillery bombardment in South Sudan.
"We recognize the right of South Sudan to self-defense and urge South Sudan to exercise restraint in its reaction to Sudan's attack in Unity State," she said.
Sudanese armed forces launched an attack Sunday more than nine kilometers inside South Sudan's border, even though the south announced on Friday it was pulling its troops from the disputed oil town of Heglig to avoid an all-out war. South Sudan had invaded Heglig earlier this month, saying it belonged to the south.
Al-Bashir visited Heglig on Monday to inspect the damage, according to the official Sudanese news agency.
The president told a mobile army contingent based in Heglig to be ready to repulse any aggression by the southern troops. He said "mobilization" will continue "against any aggression on our pure land, and until South Kordofan and Blue Nile are rid of the remnants of the SPLA or rebels supported by the government in the south."
In a fiery speech to a rally Friday after he declared the liberation of Heglig, al-Bashir said there will be no negotiations with the "poisonous insects" the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. At the time he also said, he would never allow South Sudanese oil to pass through Sudan "even if they give us half the proceeds."
South Sudan's government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin said northern forces were "taking advantage of our withdrawal from Heglig to bomb us."
Paul said two MiG 29 jets belonging to Sudan dropped three bombs on Monday, two of which landed near a bridge that connects Bentiu, the capital of Unity State and Rubkona, another town.
It was not the first time Sudan has targeted the bridge between Bentiu and Rubkona. Two Sukhoi fighters dropped bombs within 100 meters (yards) of the same bridge earlier this month.
Sudan and South Sudan, the world's newest country, have been drawing closer to war in recent months over the sharing of oil revenues and a disputed border.
On Saturday night, a Muslim mob burned a Catholic church in Sudan frequented mostly by South Sudanese. The church in Khartoum's Al-Jiraif district was built on a disputed plot of land, but the attack appeared to be part of the fallout from ongoing hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan.
Paul said late Sunday that South Sudan is building up its forces because they think Sudan is also doing the same.
The international community, led by the U.S., has called for the two countries to stop all military actions against each other and restart negotiations to solve their disputes.
President Barack Obama on Friday asked the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan to resume negotiations and said that conflict is not inevitable.
African Union-mediated talks between the two countries recently broke down in Ethiopia. The African Union on Sunday called on Sudan and South Sudan to end "senseless fighting."
The European Union in a statement on Monday also urged Sudan and South Sudan to end their armed confrontation and negotiate. The EU welcomed South Sudan's decision to withdraw its troops from neighboring Sudan's oil-rich town of Heglig and warned the government not to mount any more attacks.
It also called on Sudan to refrain from attacking the withdrawing forces and cease aerial bombardment of South Sudan.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan in July last year after an independence vote, the culmination of a 2005 peace treaty that ended decades of war that killed more than 2 million people. -Sapa