Bombs strike south Sudan

Officials say hits from north designed to hinder elections

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KIIR ADEM, Sudan | Craters and damaged huts mark this town that lies near the divide between north and south Sudan - the result, southern officials say, of repeated bombings by warplanes sent by Khartoum in hopes of scuttling an independence vote.

The Associated Press saw the damage during a visit to the site this week. Sudan’s government denies it was involved in any aerial attack against the south. Southern officials and commanders reject that claim of innocence.

Fearful of more attacks, thousands of civilians have fled the verdant fishing village of Kiir Adem. The southern army, which fought a two-decade civil war with the north until a 2005 peace agreement, has moved in three anti-aircraft guns but says it will exercise restraint against what it calls northern provocations.

Southern Sudan’s Jan. 9 independence vote was agreed on in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). That vote will likely see Africa’s largest country split in two and create a new nation - Southern Sudan.

“Definitely they are making aggressions, calculated moves,” said Col. Philip Aguer, spokesman for the southern military, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). “We know the other side wants war, because it will make the CPA come to an end.”

Standing near two of the newly arrived anti-aircraft guns, SPLALt. Col. Steven Bol Kuany held out a gnarled piece of metal that he identified as shrapnel from a bomb dropped by northern Sudanese MiG or Antonov aircraft in sorties that began last month.

The first happened late in the day of Nov. 11, when three Chinese-made MiG fighter jets and two Antonovs passed over Kiir Adem, dropping at least one bomb. At first, southern officials downplayed the event, saying the bomb landed on the north side of the Kiir River in what they consider to be northern territory. The north said at the time it was targeting fighters from Darfur’s most powerful rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement

But the aircraft returned the next day. This time bombs fell on the southern side of the river, wounding seven southern troops and five civilians, said the south’s top officer in the region, Maj. Gen. Santino Deng Wol.

During a visit to the bomb site, an AP reporter saw a crater 30 feet in diameter and about 6 feet deep, several hundred yards from a major southern military instillation and 100 yards from the only major bridge in the area. A second, smaller crater was punched into the ground closer to the base.

Circular patches of charred earth marked the spots where Gen. Wol said a dozen soldier huts once stood before the munitions set them ablaze. He said some civilian huts also burned. Gen. Wol said he believes the north was targeting the bridge.

“When they said it was accidental, we gave them the benefit of the doubt, but when it repeated itself for the second and third time, no, you cannot believe it,” Col. Aguer told AP.

The Khartoum government has denied bombing southern areas. Sudan army spokesman Sawarmy Khaled said Sunday the repeated accusations by the south “are but attempts for a cover-up for its hosting of Darfur rebel movements.”

“These are baseless accusations which we have repeatedly denied as baseless,” Mr. Khaled said in remarks published by the daily newspaper Akhbar Ayoum. “We as armed forces, we operate in the areas north of the 1956 line, not south of it.”

That may be technically true. Kiir Adem lies about 15 miles north of the north-south border line drawn on a map when Sudan gained independence from Britain in 1956.

But the 1,300-mile border has never been demarcated, and ethnic Dinkas - a southern tribe - have always occupied this area, making it a de facto southern region. Ethnic Arabs hold most of the power in the north.

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