Sudan says its largest oil field is now controlled by South Sudan’s army.
A Sudanese military spokesman told the BBC its forces had been defeated outside Heglig, and retreated north.
South Sudan said its forces had advanced to Heglig, but stopped short of saying its forces actually controlled the oil fields.
Clashes between the two sides started two weeks ago, and are among the worst since South Sudan gained independence last July after a long civil war.
South Sudan ended up with most of the oil fields, although it has to export the oil using pipelines through ports in Khartoum’s territory.
Both sides blame the other for starting the latest fighting along the undemarcated and disputed frontier in the oil-producing Heglig area.
South Sudan’s military spokesman, Philip Aguer, told the BBC the army was responding to air and ground attacks by the Sudanese armed forces.
A Sudanese government statement earlier described the offensive as “severe”, saying its Heglig oil fields were deliberately targeted.
Sudan doesn’t admit to many military defeats, so acknowledging a reverse outside Heglig is already extremely significant.
The fact that Sudan’s biggest oilfield is now apparently in the hands of the South Sudanese army is astonishing.
It is legitimate to wonder why Sudan’s military – which has the advantage of air power and greater weaponry – wasn’t able to stop the South Sudanese advance.
Perhaps the Sudan Armed Forces are simply over-stretched: as well as the South Sudanese army, they are fighting rebel groups in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Khartoum alleges the rebels are supported by South Sudan.
Sudan will certainly respond, and a programme showing “martyrs” who “sacrificed themselves for their country” is already being shown on Sudanese TV.
However it is possible the South Sudanese will slip away from the oilfields, with their point proven.
These clashes almost certainly represent an attempt to win ground before negotiations resume.
Several sources, both Sudanese and international, suggest Sudan struck first in this instance, before getting a bloody nose.
The most likely outcome is a continuation of low-level hostilities for some time, but the seriousness of these latest events takes the two countries nearer to a return to outright war.
A Sudanese man who works in the oil industry, who did not want to be named, told the BBC that Sudan began the fighting.
Another source suggested the Sudanese were trying to regain a post on the disputed border they had lost two weeks ago.
Fighting ‘poisoned atmosphere’Col Khalid Sawarmi, the spokesman for the Sudan Armed Forces, said: “Now the [soldiers] from South Sudan they are inside Heglig city, and the oilfield, they conquered the Sudanese army outside of Heglig.
“The South Sudanese attacked our Sudanese army in Heglig, as you know Heglig is not part of South Sudan,” he continued.
In January, South Sudan, which depends on oil sales for 98% of its revenue, shut down all of its oil fields in a row over the fees Sudan demands to transit the oil.
The BBC’s James Copnall in the capital, Khartoum, says oil is at the heart of the disagreements between the two countries, and oil installations are increasingly being targeted militarily.
Nhial Deng, South Sudan’s Foreign Minister, said the fighting had “poisoned the atmosphere” between the two sides.
“But we are committed to finding solutions through dialogue,” he said. “I strongly believe Khartoum’s stance is… to make military gains so they come to the table in a position of strength.”
A presidential summit, which was to have been held in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, at the beginning of April, has been postponed indefinitely because of the recent fighting.
African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki held talks late last week with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his Sudanese counterpart, Omar al-Bashir, amid international fears of a return to full-blown conflict.
Meanwhile, an international weapons monitoring group, Small Arms Survey, says it has gathered enough evidence to show that both South Sudan and Sudan are providing arms to rebels and militia groups in each other’s territory.
Both sides have often made and denied such claims of support.
April 10, 2012 (BENTIU) – South Sudan Army, SPLA, forces claimed the capture of Heglig town yesterday afternoon after repulsing an attack by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) .
According to the . SPLA division four commander James Gatduel Gatluak, Sudanese Army forces launched yesterday air and ground attacks that forced them to engage fighting with the Sudanese troops to and to take the control of Heglig on Tuesday.
The SPLA general further alleged that their troops are advancing about 30 kilometer north of Heglig oil field.
In Khartoum, Sudan Tribune failed to reach SAF spokesperson. However military sources requesting anonymity said the oil workers were evacuated and the army was ordered to withdraw from the oil area.
Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir will hold a press conference with the visiting Nigerian president. He is expected to speak about these developments..
South Sudan Accuses Sudan of Attacks on Oil-Rich Border Region
Sudan’s military has attacked a town in an oil-producing border area of South Sudan, according to that country’s information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin.
Two brigades belonging to the Sudanese Armed Forces attacked the town of Abiemnhom in South Sudan’s Unity state, injuring four civilians, including a child, Benjamin said today by phone from Juba, the southern capital.
Al-Sawarami Khaled, a spokesman for Sudan’s army, and foreign affairs spokesman al-Obeid Murawih didn’t answer calls made seeking comment today.
South Sudan seceded from the north in July, assuming control of about three-quarters of the formerly unified nation’s daily oil production of 490,000 barrels. The north and south fought a two-decade civil was that ended in 2005.
“They have been trying to move into Unity state with the intention of occupying the oil fields,” Benjamin said. “South Sudan condemns the bombardment and calls on the Republic of Sudan to withdraw its forces.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Jared Ferrie in Juba at firstname.lastname@example.org
Airstrikes, artillery bombardment on Sudan-S.Sudan border
By Hannah McNeish (AFP)
TASHWIN, South Sudan — Sudan on Tuesday carried out new airstrikes inside South Sudan, as rival armies exchanged artillery fire in the latest round of bloody fighting in contested border regions.
An AFP correspondent in the South Sudanese frontline village of Tashwin heard heavy artillery shelling and multiple airstrikes lasting for around an hour, with one bomb dropped by aircraft landing less than a kilometre (mile) away.
The bombing follows border fighting that erupted two weeks ago between the two neighbours, the most serious unrest since Juba’s independence, and prompted international fears of a return to full-blown conflict.
Southern Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said that Sudanese airplanes “bombarded Abiemnom, well within the sovereign territory of South Sudan.”
“Initial reports confirmed that four civilians have been wounded, including a small child,” Benjamin told reporters in the Southern capital Juba.
Clashes last month broke out along the undemarcated and disputed frontier in the oil producing Heglig area, with each side blaming the other for starting the bloody fighting.
The dusty village of Abiemnom in Unity state is some 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of the border with Sudan, but also lies on a strategic road to the contested Abyei region, some 10 kilometres (six miles) away to the west.
“The intended target was a strategic bridge in Abiemnom,” leading to Abyei, Benjamin added.
Military officials in Sudan were not immediately available to comment.
African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki held talks late last week over the crisis with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir, but tensions remain high between the two sides.
Benjamin claimed northern troops, backed by tanks and proxy militia forces were advancing towards the South’s Unity state, where key oil fields are located.
“Two brigades of Sudan Armed Forces, backed by 16 tanks and accompanied by members of the mujahedeen and other militia loyal to Khartoum, are currently moving towards Unity state with the intent to capture and occupy the oil fields,” he added.
“The Republic of South Sudan condemns the bombardment of innocent civilians, and calls on Sudan to immediately withdraw from the sovereign territory of South Sudan.”
He did not clarify whether northern troops had crossed the border.
Large Southern Sudanese troops movements were seen close to the frontier, with convoys heading up to the frontline.
Despite the violence on the border, Juba ordered Tuesday that Sudanese nationals living in the newly independent country be treated with respect, after a deadline requiring them to formalise their status expired.
“All nationals of the Republic of Sudan are declared foreigners as of 9 April 2012,” South Sudanese Interior Minister Alison Magaya said in a statement.
“Sudanese nationals shall be accorded fair treatment and full respect in regard to their human rights.”
An April 8 time limit ended a grace period after South Sudan separated last July in the wake of an overwhelming “yes” vote in an independence referendum that followed Africa’s longest civil war.
Tens of thousands of Sudanese are believed to live in the South — although the exact figure is not known — significantly fewer than Southerners in Sudan.
Over 370,000 Southerners have returned from Sudan since October 2010, but an estimated 500,000 others remain in the north.
Those seeking to apply for northern residence need documents from South Sudan but many cannot afford a trip South to get the relevant papers.
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