South Sudan’s government on Wednesday suspended oil production in the disputed oil-rich area of Heglig following the capture of the area on Tuesday by the South Sudan’s forces known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
Engineers from the White Nile Petroleum Operating Company (WNPOC) based in Unity state briefed the Vice President, Riek Machar, in Bentiu, on their immediate inspection of the Heglig oilfield after it was captured by the SPLA and declared that they had successfully halted the oil operation in the area.
Machar had already been in Bentiu town of Unity state for two days on a peace mission when the fighting erupted between the two armies. He was also informed by the engineers on some minor damages inflicted on oil facilities during the fighting.
The report will increase the tensions between Khartoum and Juba as Heglig is one of the biggest oil fields in Sudan.
Eyewitnesses in the Sudanese capital said that motorists worried about a possible disruption to fuel supplies as a result of Heglig takeover formed lines at petrol stations to stock up.
The Sudanese government announced that it has suspended all negotiations with Juba on post-independence issues that were mediated by the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP). It also vowed to swiftly reclaim the area.
South Sudan said their forces had to respond to the “aggressive provocation” by Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) after which they repulsed and pursued the retreating forces into Heglig town which subsequently resulted in the fall of the area to the SPLA on Tuesday.
On Wednesday the AU, United Nations and the United States called on South Sudan to immediately withdraw from Heglig. This followed a formal complaint lodged by Khartoum with the AU and the UN Security Council (UNSC).
But South Sudan today gave further hints of their intention to assert ownership of the area that has historically been part of the Unity state.
The SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer, told reporters on Wednesday that Heglig has never been part of Sudan in accordance with the 1956 borders between the two regions, now separate countries.
Heglig, which is locally known as Panthou by the indigenous people in Dinka language, had been a low key disagreement between Sudan and South Sudan and specifically between the Abyei region of Southern Kordofan state in Sudan and Pariang County of Unity state in South Sudan.
In 2009 a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague which determined and demarcated the Abyei territory and its boundaries, decided that Heglig fell outside the official boundaries of the Abyei region.
Aguer said that that since the PCA ruling found that Heglig fell outside of Abyei’s boundaries in South Kordofan, the demarcation of boundaries between South Sudan and Sudan will rightfully declare it part of Unity state in South Sudan.
He added Heglig is not a border area, but deep inside South Sudan’s territory and warned that the SPLA will not allow SAF to continue encroaching into the territory of the Republic of South Sudan by force.
Aguer cautioned the international community against believing in the “baseless stories” told by warmongers Khartoum.