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South Sudan: SPLA Soldiers Hold Frontline Position

  • Alex Pena

​PANAKUAC, South Sudan - The border between South Sudan and Sudan is quiet, but tense after weeks of fighting in contested areas - which sparked fears of all-out war. South Sudanese troops are at a standstill as they await talks on a U.N. Security Council resolution and commanders are awaiting orders on their next move.

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The road to South Sudan’s front line with the north is a rugged one. Sudan People’s Liberation Army soldiers armed with AK-47's and machine guns line the almost two-hour drive from Bentiu to the town of Panakuac. Since the SPLA fell back from the strategic oil town of Heglig in April, this area is as far north as they control.

SPLA Brigadier General Gabriel Puok says if there is peace his troops are prepared to go back to thebarracks. If there isn’t, he’s prepared to fight.

Puok ties his sneakers as he prepares everyone to patrol the front line. The others grab their sandals and walk to the northernmost point. From there, soldier David Alirdo claims he can see Sudanese trucks operating just one kilometer to the north.

"Because we are on the frontline with them now, this is their defense, they are coming out always," he said.

Alirdo says most South Sudan soldiers feel they should be holding positions farther north.

"The international community asked us to evacuate, according to their laws, so we moved from Heglig to here. But it is not our title, our title is [what is up] ahead," he added.

The SPLA says its posture is defensive against Sudanese aggression. While Khartoum has denied conducting aerial bombardment of the south, there is evidence of three bombs which fell on Bentiu. One killed a 14-year-old boy.

SPLA spokesman Kernel Keller says this is about Sudan’s need for oil - most of which went to South Sudan after independence last year.

"For Khartoum, they want land. They don’t want people here," said Keller. "They don’t care about who is going to die and what will happen and so on because their interest is only the land where there is petroleum, minerals, resources, and all of this.”

U.N. and African Union mediators have tried to facilitate talks on border issues and sharing of oil revenues. But all recent attempts have broken down.

South Sudan shut down all oil production in January after accusing the north of stealing oil going through northern pipelines, and charging exorbitant fees.

But South Sudan's Deputy Minister of Information Atem Yak Atem says that won’t stop his government from reaching out to its northern neighbor.

"It is in the interest of our two peoples to be good neighbors. To cooperate, and we’ve gone almost to the point of begging them. It is not out of weakness, but it is simply because we need stability within our country, and with our neighbors," he said.

Until diplomats get talks back on track, soldiers like Alirdo will stay put, waiting for their orders to either fall back, or move forward.

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