South Sudan’s army (SPLA) claim they captured the oil-rich area of Heglig in Sudan’s South Kordofan State on Monday afternoon after repulsing an attack by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF).
According to the commander of the SPLA’s fourth division, James Gatduel Gatluak, SAF launched air and ground attacks that forced them to respond by engaging the Sudanese army and taking control of Heglig later on Tuesday.
Heglig was placed in South Kordofan by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2009. But South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, has recently hinted that his country intends to reassert its claim over the valuable oil-producing area. Heglig was initially called Aliny a Dinka Panrou name which has been washed away because of oil discovering in the area, some South Sudanese officials claim.
The SPLA general further alleged that their troops are advancing about 30 kilometer north of Heglig oil field, which accounts for roughly half of its 115,000 barrel a day output. In late March the SPLA briefly occupied a part of Heglig before withdrawing.
In Khartoum, Sudan Tribune failed to reach a SAF spokesperson to respond to the SPLA’s claims. However, military sources requesting anonymity said oil workers were evacuated and the army was ordered to withdraw from the area.
When Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir holds a press conference with the visiting Nigerian president he is expected to speak about these developments.
Last week the SPLA clashed SAF and it alleges rebel militia the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), which Juba claims in backed by Khartoum. Sudan denies this and counters that Juba back rebels in South Kordofan.
Khartoum also alleges that South Kordofan rebels - the SPLM-N - were involved in clashes between the two armies around Heglig at the end of March.
Unity State’s SPLA commander said Tuesday that SAF launched a ground attack on their positions in Tachuin as they had done previously. According to the SPLA, SAF attacked through both by aerial bombardments and a ground assault.
It was this assault, the SPLA said, resulted in the full day of fighting between the two countries’ armies in Heglig, during which SAF lost control of the area’s main oil field.
SAF BOMBS UNITY STATE
On Tuesday a Sudanese Antenov war plane bombed Unity State’s Abiemnom County, according to local officials. Abiemnom Commissioner Ajang Gedi told Sudan Tribune that a SAF bombers dropped six bombs in Pankuel Payam [district] at 3:00am on Tuesday morning.
Gedi said that four people were in critically seriously wounded in the attack; two children, one woman and one man. The commissioner appealed to the international community to pressure Sudan to stop the aimless targeting of South Sudan’s civilian population.
“We are appealing to the African Union and international community about Sudanese government violation against the people of South Sudan", he said.
Gedi added that Abiemnom County would stand behind the SPLA, adhering the call by Unity State governor, Taban Deng Gai, for communities to raise material support for South Sudan’s army (SPLA) so it is prepared for a possible invasion by north Sudan’s military.
The Sudanese Air Force has bomb Rubkotna, Guit and Abiemnom Counties of Unity State on several occasions in recent months. Each time the attacks have been denied by Khartoum despite the craters left by the bombs.
On 4 April South Sudan said it had shot down a Sudanese MiG-29 aircraft over Unity State but this was also denied by Khartoum.
Last week South Sudan’s Oil Minister, Stephen Dhieu, claimed an illegal 25 kilometre pipeline had been discovered running into Unity State from South Kordofan.