By Abdelmoneim Abu Edris Ali / AFP
HEGLIG: Dead bodies and destroyed tanks lay in Sudan’s southern oil centre of Heglig on Wednesday after government forces and South Sudanese troops clashed along the border, sparking international alarm.
Smoke still rose from a damaged residence at the battle scene.
An AFP reporter observed the damage while accompanying Sudan’s Oil Minister Awad Ahmad Al-Jaz who landed in the nearby town of Heglig at 9:15 am (0615 GMT) accompanied by Ahmad Harun, governor of surrounding South Kordofan state.
The correspondent saw three bodies and two tanks but the tanks carried no visible identifying markings.
Numerous oil wells surround the town.
“Heglig and all around it are completely secure,” Heglig area commander Bashir Meki told the delegation.
Heglig town is about 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the disputed frontier’s closest point.
South Sudan said its forces had taken the area on Monday when they pushed back Khartoum’s troops which had moved over the frontier into Unity State following air strikes.
A Sudanese aircraft dropped two more bombs in an oil region of the South’s Unity State on Tuesday but there was no damage, according to the state’s information minister Gideon Gatpan.
Both Heglig and the area bombed on Tuesday are run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a consortium led by China’s state oil giant CNPC.
Although both countries claim parts of the Heglig area, an analyst said it “is firmly in north Sudan”.
Analysts said there are elements in Khartoum, as well as the South, opposed to recent moves towards warmer bilateral relations between the two countries and suggested the latest flare-up is an effort to sabotage a rapprochement.
Border tensions have mounted since South Sudan split from Sudan in July last year after an overwhelming vote for secession that followed Africa’s longest war.
Earlier in March, after months of failed negotiations, a dispute over oil fees and mutual accusations of backing rebels on each other’s territory, South Sudan’s chief negotiator Pagan Amum said relations had improved.
Amum and a South Sudanese delegation visited Khartoum last week to invite their “brother” Bashir to an April 3 summit in the southern capital Juba, and said he had accepted.
But after Monday’s fighting Khartoum said it had suspended the meeting.
Al-Jaz was to return on Wednesday evening to Khartoum.
Sudan’s defense and interior ministers were due to address a parliamentary committee on Wednesday morning discussing the recent incidents, official media reported.