Saturday, January 20, 2018

Sudanese bombings leave 2 dead, 10 injured in South Sudan

JUBA, South Sudan — Sudanese warplanes bombed a South Sudanese town Monday morning, ignoring international calls to stop attacks and ratcheting up the threat of a full-blown war between the two nations.

According to the United Nations mission in the South Sudanese capital of Juba, the bombings began at 8:30 a.m. in the heavily populated border town of Bentiu, striking a market on its outskirts and killing two civilians, including one child. Another 10 people were wounded. Reporters at the scene described seeing the body of the boy in the marketplace.

"These indiscriminate bombings resulting in the loss of civilian lives must stop," said Hilde F. Johnson, the top U.N. official in South Sudan.

When asked at a news conference what the United Nations mission here could do to stop Khartoum from bombing civilian targets, Johnson said any stronger measures against Sudan were not in the mission's hands. "It is totally in the hands of the U.N. Security Council," she said.

Monday's attack came hours after Sudanese forces launched an incursion more than six miles inside South Sudan's border and two days after South Sudan ordered a withdrawal of its troops from the contested oil town of Heglig to allow international diplomacy to try to solve the disagreements between the nations.

Sudan denied that it had attacked inside the South's border. It asserted instead that it had repulsed a major attack by southern-backed rebels in South Kordofan, on its own side of the border.

But there appeared to be little doubt that Monday's bombing was conducted by the government in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. Witnesses reported seeing Soviet-made warplanes attacking the town. The South Sudanese military does not have an air force.

Maj. Gen. Mac Paul, deputy director of military intelligence for South Sudan, said two MiG-29 fighters dropped three bombs. He said two of them landed near a bridge that connects Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, and Rubkona, the market that was attacked, according to the Associated Press. Paul said the other bomb exploded in Rubkona.

"The bombing amounts to a declaration of war," Paul said.

Violence has steadily increased since South Sudan broke away from Sudan last year, becoming the world's newest country. Khartoum and Juba have been embroiled in disagreements over contested border areas and the sharing of oil revenues. They have backed proxy rebel forces inside each other's borders and engaged in high-stakes verbal assaults that have drawn them closer to war.

The United States, the United Nations and the international community have urged both sides to stop their attacks. The latest such call came from President Barack Obama, who on Friday urged the presidents of both countries to return to the negotiating table to resolve their disputes.

But tensions continue to rise. On Saturday night in Khartoum, mobs of Muslims razed a Catholic Church frequented by South Sudanese, apparently in retaliation for the South Sudanese takeover of Heglig, which both sides claim as their territory. South Sudan said it withdrew from the area, but Khartoum claims its troops pushed the South Sudanese out, once again inflaming animosities.

"We are building up troops because we think that the Sudanese army is also building up," Paul told reporters in Bentiu on Sunday.

On Monday, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir visited troops near the Heglig oil field and ruled out talks with South Sudan because of its takeover of the town.

"We will not negotiate with the South's government, because they don't understand anything but the language of the gun and ammunition," he told Sudanese troops, according to the Reuters news agency.

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