Newly independent South Sudan says that its former civil war foe Sudan has bombed its oil fields. The new nation recently shut down oil production on which both countries are financially reliant, in a dispute over oil transit fees through the north.
South Sudan government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benamin said Thursday that on Wednesday, two Sudanese jets dropped several bombs onto two oil fields in Unity state.
“These oil fields that they are targeting are about 74 kilometers from our borders with the Republic of Sudan," said Marial. "It means they have flown into our territory about 74 kilometers, and that is violating the airspace and territorial integrity of the Republic of South Sudan.”
Marial said that two wells and two vehicles had been damaged by the bombs, which Sudan's military has denied any responsibility for.
South Sudan’s military spokesman Philip Aguer said that a water well had also been hit and that leaking oil had contaminated drinking water in the area.
South Sudan split peacefully from Sudan in July after decades of civil war. But the two former civil war partners have been drawing closer to renewed conflict as disputes over sharing oil revenue and territory along the largely unmarked border have escalated.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan with 75 percent of the former unified nation's crude oil but exports it through a pipeline and a Red Sea port inside Sudan. The sides are now at odds over transit fees demanded by the north that the south considers excessive.
Despite South Sudan relying on oil for 98 percent of its budget and having to build a nation from scratch, in late January the government halted production after accusing Khartoum of “stealing” its oil.
The two countries have denied accusations that they are funding rebel groups in each other’s territories, but analysts have dubbed it a proxy war to destabilize already weakened positions.
Marial accused Sudan of a “war-like attitude” in wanting to damage South Sudan’s resources and threaten its people.
“They would like to drag the Republic of South Sudan into war - a war that we are not interested in," said Marial. "They are fighting their own internal wars, and they are always pronouncing that we are supporting the opposition groups in the Republic of Sudan, which is not true. We will not be dragged into a senseless war that has no meaning to our people, but we will definitely protect our territorial integrity, and our resources, and the lives of our citizens.”
Marial said that South Sudan would attend the next round of African Union led talks in Ethiopia on March 6th to try and find a deal on oil, debt relief, borders and contested territory in Sudan.