Sudanese warplanes hit Southern border regions, Southern army officials said Thursday, the latest violence in weeks of clashes that have sparked international condemnation and calls for restraint.
Antonov bombers and MiG fighter jets attacked the village of Chotchare in the South’s Unity state late Wednesday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties, Southern army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP news agency.
Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) “has not stopped its aggression,” said Aguer, adding that Wednesday’s bombing mainly targeted the temporary settlements of cattle-herding pastoralists.
The reported attacks could not be verified independently, and Sudan has repeatedly dismissed Southern reports of attacks.
Meanwhile, a Sudanese soldier released by South Sudan told Reuters on Thursday he and 12 other comrades had been beaten and insulted during their detention in the South, in the latest sign of tensions between the neighbors.
South Sudan strongly denied any mistreatment of 13 Sudanese soldiers it had released on Wednesday after capturing them during fighting at the disputed Heglig oilfield two weeks ago.
“This is not true. They were not beaten. The government told them to say they were beaten,” South Sudan’s Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said, adding that Sudan was still holding at least seven South Sudanese prisoners.
South Sudan had handed over the prisoners to Egyptian officials who flew them to Cairo and from there to Khartoum where they arrived early on Thursday.
Diplomats had hoped the release would defuse tensions between the African neighbours whose armies have been embroiled in three weeks of border fighting, and bring both sides back to the negotiating table.
“We were subject to all kinds of insults and beatings during our stay there,” Lieutenant Khalid Hassan Ahmed, a doctor in the Sudanese army, told reporters at Khartoum airport.
He said South Sudanese soldiers and Darfur rebels fighting at their side had captured them at Heglig hospital two weeks ago and then brought them via another place to Bentiu, a southern oil town, some 80 km (50 miles) from the disputed border.
The prisoners were put in a stuffy and cramped container and given only one meal a deal and little water, said Khalid who said he also spoke on behalf of the other released soldiers.
“We moved from there to Juba by air. We were tied inside the airplane. When we arrived at Juba airport one of the SPLA (South Sudanese army) members untied the ropes so that when we appeared before the media, it would like we had been treated well and according to international conventions regarding the treatment of the POWs,” he said.
“This is just untrue,” he said.
Khalid showed no visible signs of mistreatment. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had provided the Sudanese during their detention with shoes, mats, soap and mosquito nets and conveyed messages to their families.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday denounced air strikes on South Sudan as “provocative and unacceptable” and called on the two sides to resume talks as soon as possible.
Heavy fighting broke out earlier this month between the rival armies, as Southern troops seized the contested Heglig oilfield from Khartoum’s army, pulling out 10 days later after international pressure.
However, Sudanese warplanes bombed their forces as they moved southwards as well as hitting Unity state capital Bentiu, attacks which South Sudan President Salva Kiir said Tuesday was a declaration of war by Khartoum.
Last week, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir threatened to crush the “insect” government of the South, and said the time for talks was over.