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Satellite Images Show Oil Pipeline Damage in Heglig

Satellite images of Heglig in February and April 2012. Right hand image reportedly shows extensive damage to key oil pipeline component called oil collection manifold.
Satellite images of Heglig in February and April 2012. Right hand image reportedly shows extensive damage to key oil pipeline component called oil collection manifold.

New satellite imagery indicates recent clashes between Sudanese and South Sudanese forces have severely damaged a key oil pipeline. The Satellite Sentinel Project focused its cameras on the disputed border town of Heglig.

Heglig sits on the disputed border between Southern Kordofan State in Sudan and Unity State in South Sudan. The recent fighting caused many to fear a resumption of full-scale war was in the making.

South Sudan forces reportedly entered Heglig in retaliation for an attack by northern forces on the town of Teshwin earlier this month. While Southern Sudanese forces have withdrawn from Heglig, tensions between the two countries remain very high.

Explosions and looting

Nathanial Raymond is director of operations for the Harvard Humanitarian Project, which analyzes the satellite imagery.

“We have seen evidence that the main collection manifold, which is the point where several pipes come together in an oil field at Heglig, has been destroyed. We do not know who destroyed it or when it was destroyed, but we do know that there was some form of explosion on or around the collection manifold in the Heglig oil field,” he said.

Raymond said it’s unclear what the full effects of the destruction of the manifold will be. However, a halt to the flow of oil in the area is one possibility.

The satellite images indicate other damage, including looting, in Heglig. Raymond said they allegedly show it was done by South Sudan forces, the SPLA.

“We’re focusing on the SPLA for one reason. The Satellite Sentinel Project has been set up to report on apparent violations of the laws of war by any party to this conflict. And whether you’re looting a civilian structure or looting a military base it is not allowed underneath the laws of war. And in the case of Heglig, we are seeing the apparent looting of a SAF installation and apparent intentional destruction of structures that look like civilian houses,” he said.

Air power

The satellite images are also said to show a build-up of Sudanese Armed Forces aircraft in lower Southern Kordofan State.

“There is a large portion of the total combat air strength of the Sudan Armed Forces Air Force in range of attacking South Sudan. The images we’ve seen from the El-Obeid and Kadugli airbases suggest that they have brought in over half of certain classes of attack aircraft into range with the capacity to strike,” said Raymond.

Raymond described it as the single largest buildup of Sudan Armed Forces air capacity ever witnessed by the Satellite Sentinel Project.

“Despite SAF denials about having recently launched air attacks into South Sudan, we see evidence consistent with reported air strikes in Bentiu, which is the capital of Unity State,” he said.

The U.S. State Department has said Sudan and South Sudan “have not finalized the number and size of disputed areas along their shared border.”

It added, there is a “mechanism to resolve these disputes” through negotiations through the Africa Union. The U.S. calls on both parties “not to use military force and unilateral actions to settle disputes but instead to use peaceful means and existing mechanisms.”