South Sudan troops withdraw from oil area after clashes

Wed Mar 28, 2012 5:25pm GMT

By Ulf Laessing

HEGLIG OIL FIELD, Sudan (Reuters) - South Sudan's troops have pulled out of Sudan's oil-producing Heglig area, both sides said on Wednesday, easing tensions after two days of clashes between the neighbours threatened to escalate a simmering conflict.

Both the United States and United Nations called on the countries to halt the violence - the worst seen since South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in July, taking most of the country's known crude reserves with it.

South Sudan accused Sudan of bombing major oil fields and other areas on its side of the border on Monday and Tuesday. Sudan denied the air raids but said southern troops started the fighting by attacking Heglig, one of the major oilfields left on the Sudanese side of the border since the split.

A Reuters reporter taken on a Sudanese government tour of the Heglig oil field near the border saw no signs of fighting on Wednesday, but there was a heavy security presence. Soldiers and machine gun-mounted Toyota pickup trucks patrolled the area.

"The area of Heglig and the surroundings are totally secure," Heglig area commander Bashir Meki told reporters. "We are ready (to defend our country)," he said, as dozens of soldiers shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest).

The fighting was fuelled by a festering row between the two countries over the position of their shared border, the ownership of disputed territories, and how much the landlocked south should pay to transport its oil through Sudan.

South Sudan secures its independence under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with Khartoum. Analysts fear a return to full blown war.

Three dead men lay next to a burned-out truck at the site of one of the battles at Heglig. Sudanese soldiers identified the three as SPLA fighters.   Continued...

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