Troops gather in disputed oil region

April 16, 2012 at 7:17 AM
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KHARTOUM, Sudan, April 16 (UPI) -- Troops from Sudan and South Sudan moved into the border town of Heglig where oil and a refinery critical to both countries is located, officials said.

Heglig, in an ill-defined area left unresolved when South Sudan became independent last year, is a source of conflict because its refinery provides South Sudan a facility to process and sell oil without Sudan's help while giving Sudan the oil it needs but lacks, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

Sudan military spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid said in Khartoum Sudanese forces were advancing on Heglig. Khalid said the troops would not occupy the town but would defeat South Sudan's "war machine."

Sudanese troops were about 4 miles from Heglig's oil field Sunday, Khalid said.

"The liberation of Heglig is imminent and South Sudan forces are now in disarray" he said, declining to offer a casualty report.

Col. Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the South's Sudan People's Liberation Army, said an infantry division has held Heglig since Saturday and the country's army killed 240 Sudanese soldiers since entering Heglig while 19 South Sudanese troops were killed, mainly in air raids.

The Journal said it could not verify the information independently.

South Sudan's army has fended off attacks in the disputed area since early March and would remain in Heglig until Sudan stops attacking the territory, Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said.

"They are the aggressors and this is what we have been telling the security council," Benjamin said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr held discussions with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir Sunday, relaying Egypt's willingness to mediate the conflict, Sudanese state media reported. Bashir was quoted as saying Sudan wouldn't begin discussions with South Sudan until it withdrew from the oil field.

The African Union, the United Nations and others locate Heglig inside South Kordofan, inside Sudan. But the government in Juba said Heglig belongs to them per their July secession agreement.

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