Two Sudans braced for all-out war as the South seizes disputed oil field

 

Khartoum has vowed to recapture a disputed oil field as fighting along the border between the two Sudans threatens to turn a rancorous divorce into an all-out war.

Reporters who reached the oil outpost of Heglig yesterday described the wreckage left by a northern retreat, with soldiers' bodies strewn along the roads.

The division of Africa's biggest country in June last year has been followed by pitched battles along the disputed frontier, which have escalated in recent weeks as northern bombers have raided targets inside South Sudan, while southern troops have marched into territory previously held by Sudan.

The fighting has derailed efforts at an internationally brokered settlement meant to divide citizens, territory and natural resources between the two former civil-war foes.

The latest front to emerge is at Heglig, which had remained under the control of the north since the countries' separation.

The government in the southern capital, Juba, has been criticised by much of the international community for its "illegal occupation" of the area since its troops drove out the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) last week.

Northern authorities have successfully argued that the oil fields were separated from another disputed enclave, Abyei, by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2009 and placed under the control of the northern state of Southern Kordofan.

The government of Omar al-Bashir has denounced the seizure of Heglig and Sudan's parliament voted on Monday to declare South Sudan an "enemy state" and insisted southern forces must withdraw before any talks can take place.

However, Juba has its own claims to Heglig and says the area's separation from Abyei does not change the fact that its permanent status is contested and can only be settled by a permanent demarcation of the border.

John Ashworth, a Sudan expert, said that the international response to the occupation of Heglig has been one-sided: "Heglig is disputed. Both sides believe they have a legitimate claim, and the international community should refrain from making statements about Heglig's status until demarcation of the disputed border has been completed."

The UN confirmed bombs had been dropped near one of its sites at the weekend, and expressed concern at a build-up of militia forces in the northern-held border enclave of Abyei.

The loss of the Heglig fields, which supply roughly half of Sudan's oil, has shocked many in the Arab-dominated north, which is already suffering from runaway inflation and rumblings of political dissent.

During the two decades of civil war that ended in 2005, the SAF was accustomed to militarily dominating the southern-led guerrilla army, the SPLA.

Khartoum retains control of the skies with a mixture of Soviet-era bombers and MiG fighter jets but its former recruiting grounds in the Darfur region and the Nuba Mountains are running dry and the government faces rebellions in those areas. On the ground, the SAF has been pushed back repeatedly.

There are still hopes that the war will not spread beyond the border areas and that the neighbours will return to the negotiating table, but Juba has made two bold moves this year – shutting down oil production and seizing Heglig – suggesting it may be more ready for war than some thought.

The south is even more dependant on oil than the north, but with much of its population scattered across refugee camps in one of the least developed countries in the world, southern leaders may gamble that their people have less to lose than the city dwellers in the more developed north.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£20000 - £21000 per annum: The Jenrick Group: This high quality manufacturer o...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £35000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical ...

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'