In Sudan's Heglig: stench of death and leaking oil
4/23/2012 7:30:03 PM -
HEGLIG, Sudan (AFP) - A stench of death filled the air and oil leaked onto the ground Monday in Sudan's main petroleum centre of Heglig, where Sudan's army says more than 1,000 Southern soldiers died in battle.
"The numbers of killed from SPLM are 1,200," Sudan's military commander Kamal Marouf told thousands of troops in the area, from which Southern forces said they had withdrawn on the weekend.
The toll is impossible to verify, but an AFP correspondent who accompanied Marouf said the putrid bodies of dead South Sudanese soldiers lay beneath trees scattered among the oil fields.
He said the number of bodies was so large they were "uncountable."
They bore the South Sudanese flag on their uniforms, and some had fallen inside the area's main town.
No civilians were visible, only Sudanese soldiers camped or on patrol.
Khartoum has not said how many of its own soldiers died in the operation.
During its 10-day occupation of Heglig, South Sudan's army said 19 of its soldiers were killed and that 240 Sudanese troops lost their lives.
Early in the occupation one Southern soldier in Bentiu, capital of the South's Unity State, said: "There are so many bodies at the front line, so many dead" that it is impossible to bury them or bring them back.
"Our talks with them were with guns and bullets," said President Omar al-Bashir, who arrived in the region wearing a military uniform to address celebrating troops on Monday.
The AFP correspondent saw one captured tank bearing a South Sudanese flag, and another damaged tank which could not be identified.
In Heglig town itself, televisions and computers lay damaged in the street.
Sudan did not allow journalists or other observers into the Heglig area during the standoff with the South, and no foreign reporters were permitted on Monday's visit which lasted about four hours.
South Sudan said it completed a tactical withdrawal from the Heglig region on Sunday, a move that followed intense international diplomacy to pull the two sides back from the brink of a wider war.
Khartoum claimed to have defeated the South and forced it out.
From the main road in the area, destroyed oil company vehicles could be seen, and the AFP correspondent found the area's main oil processing facility heavily damaged.
A storage tank had been destroyed by fire, eight generators which provided power to the facility were also burned, and some oil was leaking onto the ground at the plant operated by Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co (GNPOC).
Abdel Azim Hassan, a Sudanese supervising engineer with the firm, accused South Sudan of causing the damage.
"They destroyed the main electricity station which supplied the oilfields and the central processing station," he said, adding the control rooms and safety system for the processing facility were also destroyed by "professional" saboteurs.
"Now we are working to maintain the stations as quickly as possible," initially by restoring manual operation, he said.
South Sudan's army alleged during its occupation that Sudan had bombed the Heglig area "indiscriminately," and that an air raid struck a Heglig oil processing facility, setting it ablaze last Thursday.
Two oil wells were burned near the processing facility, an area now heavily guarded by Sudanese troops, the AFP correspondent said.