South Sudan accuses north of air strike

The northern Army has accused the south of aiding Darfuri rebels.

Juba: South Sudan`s Army on Wednesday accused northern forces of bombing two sites south of their border, further escalating tensions as the south gears up for full independence.

But senior government officials from the north and south appeared to defuse the situation when they later agreed to continue talks aimed at resolving security issues prior to southern secession in July.

"A (northern) Sudanese Armed Forces Antonov aeroplane bombed two areas in the west of Raja county in Western Bahr al-Ghazal state on Monday morning," said Philip Aguer, spokesman for the Sudan People`s Liberation Army (SPLA).

"People were very surprised, because there was no warning, but very fortunately there were no casualties."

The northern Army spokesman dismissed the accusation as "completely false”.

"We didn`t attack the area of Raja and there is no reason for us to do so," Sawarmi Khaled Saad said.

The UN mission in Sudan said it was investigating the alleged attacks, which it was informed by the SPLA took place on Monday and Tuesday in the areas of Sirka and Timsaha.

The former civil war enemies in north and south Sudan have traded bitter accusations since a January referendum on independence for the south, where the population voted almost unanimously to break away and form their own nation.

In a surprising show of cooperation after the SPLA`s complaint on Wednesday, defence ministers from both sides later signed an accord on security arrangements as part of ongoing post-referendum discussions, and overseen by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki said he was "very pleased with the spirit of cooperation" at the talks in Juba between Sudan’s Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein, and his southern counterpart Nhial Deng Nhial.

But he cautioned that key issues still had to be resolved, including the future mandate of the UN peacekeeping force and the "definition of the security zone" along the north-south border.

In addition, the future of northern soldiers in the SPLA and southern fighters associated with the northern Sudanese Armed Forces must still be agreed, he told reporters.

Mbeki heads an African Union team mediating talks on outstanding issues ahead of independence.

In addition to security, these include the future of the contested flashpoint region of Abyei, as well as oil, borders, citizenship and debt.

The state where this week`s bombings were said to have occurred has a disputed border with the north’s war-torn Darfur region, where fighting continues between rebels and Khartoum.

The northern Army has accused the south of aiding Darfuri rebels, claims rejected by the south.

"There are no rebels there and you will have to ask them (the north) why they are carrying out these attacks," the SPLA spokesman said, adding that the air strikes took place far from the border with Darfur.

But he said the southern Army would not retaliate.

"We are only protesting at these attacks, and asking them never to happen again," Aguer said.

The north was accused of launching similar bombing raids in November and December last year.

It also rejected those accusations, but did admit one "accidental" bombing raid on southern territory that it claimed was in pursuit of Darfuri rebels.

Earlier this month, southern officials revealed documents they said detailed northern arms shipments to southern militias, after a wave of deadly clashes in the south.

Khartoum has repeatedly rejected all such accusations, and dismissed the documents as fabricated.

Several hundred people, many of them civilians, have been killed since January`s referendum in fighting between the SPLA and rebel militias in Jonglei state and the oil-rich Upper Nile and Unity states, which both border the north.

Bureau Report

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