May 23, 2012 (JUBA) – South Sudan said Wednesday that militia groups aligned to the government of neighbouring Sudan, collaboratively attempted to attack the border states of Western and Northern Bahr el Ghazal over the last two days, targeting largely civilian settlements and forcing hundreds of families to flee their ancestral homes and head for urban areas.
Eyewitnesses and state officials from Aweil East County of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, said, in series of interviews with Sudan Tribune, that the attack was carried out by militia groups acting in collaboration with the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and it’s paramilitary the Popular Defence Forces (PDF).
South Sudan’s army (SPLA) says it was attacked in the Warguet area on the South Sudanese side of the disputed and largely undemarcated border.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, South Sudan minister of information and media affairs, Barnaba Benjamin Marial, described the “wanton attacks”, as an attempt to provoke a response from the SPLA.
“This is a clear violation of the African Union roadmap and the resolution of the United Nations Security Council,” said Marial, describing it a “slap in the face” of the international community.
The Security Council and African Union are trying to bring the to sides back to talks to resolve a number of post-partition issues, including oil, borders, disputed areas and security.
“It has not been easy for the last three days for our people, especially civilians. They have been living in fear and dodging aerial and ground attacks by the Sudanese Armed Forced and their allied militia groups in Mereim”, Makuac Kuol, a local administrative officer told Sudan Tribune Wednesday.
“They have been constantly shelling Warguet from Mereim with heavy artillery since Sunday. It is actually going to four days now since they started”, he said explaining further that ground attacks on the area were repulsed on Wednesday.
“Our forces did not follow them. They just pushed them back to where they came and remained in their positions, because they know the intention of the attack is to provoke a fight in order to spoil current diplomatic efforts by the international community trying to bring the two sides together to discuss the way forward”, he said.
In April South Sudan occupied the oil-producing region of Heglig for 10 days in response, Juba says, to repeated SAF attacks on Unity State from the area. South Sudan was widely condemned for its actions and has since withdrawn from Abyei, another disputed area, as per a UN Security Council resolution. Khartoum says that it will not withdraw until a civilian administration is established.
Kuol said civilians fleeing aerial bombardments and ground attacks by long range artillery are trying to find safety in towns. He said quoted some one of displaced as saying “we fled with the children because shells were landing and shrapnel were buzzing around us.”
Minister Marial told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday that the Sudanese army was amassing troops on the border and maintains “huge” presence in Mereim which, he said, had been used for “shelling indiscriminately” over the last three days.
“They have shifted the war to Mereim, which is now being used as a springboard for shelling and using the local population as mercenaries to fight their war. The minister of defence of Sudan was there three times this to month to mobilise local population to fight their war”, said Marial.
“They are also doing the same thing in Western Bahr el Ghazal State. Their troops are moving and shelling indiscriminately areas which are not military targets”, he said explaining that the country’s army is monitoring the movement the similar groups along the border with South Sudan’s Upper Nile State.
The government spokesman said areas of Unity State and Wedakona in Upper Nile State are believed to be hosting the largest pockets of Khartoum-backed militia.
Khartoum denies backing groups in South Sudan and accuses Juba of assisting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), which have been fighting the government since disputed elections and demands that they disarm last year.