Sudanese troops celebrate in disputed oil region

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Sudanese soldiers cheered, hoisted rifles in the air and showed off a battered South Sudanese tank and dozens of corpses in the Heglig border region leaving no doubt who was in control of the hotly disputed oil area.

Heglig was at the centre of the worst violence between Sudan and South Sudan since they split into two countries under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war. The fighting raised fears the neighbours could slide back into a full-blown conflict.

South Sudan seized the region – which many southerners call Panthou – earlier this month, before withdrawing last week under heavy international pressure and, according to Khartoum, a thrashing at the hands of the Sudanese army, Reuters reports.
“Thank God, we have cleansed the country, cleansed it from the filth of traitors,” Sudanese soldier Hafiz Ahmed said. “We swore an oath between us, God and the nation that we would not abandon one inch of this country.”

The loss of the economically vital region was a major shock to many Sudanese, and news it was back under the control of Sudan’s army set off widespread celebrations in Khartoum.

The excitement was on clear display among hundreds of soldiers during a government organised tour of Heglig on Monday.

Excited soldiers climbed on top of a tank marked with the name of the South’s army, the SPLA, and a picture of the South Sudanese flag, yelling: “We took it, it’s ours!”
“We crushed them, we kicked them out,” one soldier shouted.

Authorities did not allow foreign journalists to join the tour to Heglig operated by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company consortium, led by China’s CNPC, together with Malaysia’s Petronas and India’s ONGC Videsh.

General Kamal Abdul Maarouf, a Sudanese army commander, said 1,200 South Sudanese soldiers died during the fighting, although South Sudan rejected the number.

A Reuters journalist saw corpses, some with bullet wounds, in military fatigues lining a long road. Many uniforms were clearly marked with the South Sudanese flag. The smell of bodies filled the air.

So confident was the government in its grip on Heglig, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was flown in to address hundreds of cheering soldiers waving Kalashnikov rifles in the air.

Dressed in military uniform, the burly leader descended from his plane to shouts of “Allahu akbar,” and vowed not to negotiate with South Sudan, saying their leaders only understood “the language of the gun”.

Heglig produced about half of the 115,000 barrel-a-day output that remained to Sudan after the South seceded, and both sides have accused one another of damaging its infrastructure.

Bombed-out pipelines dripped oil onto the dry earth, and other infrastructure including the central processing facility and power plant was charred and clearly damaged.

Abdelazeem Hassan Abdallah, an oil worker in Heglig, said the field could start pumping oil again within two weeks, but he added that the damage was serious. “They know how to do the job completely,” he said, referring to the SPLA.

Military tensions continued to mount on Monday after South Sudan accused Sudan of bombing a market in Bentiu, the capital of its oil-producing Unity state, calling the attack a declaration of war. Sudan’s army denied carrying out any air raids.