South Sudan accuses north of dropping 18 bombs
By Jeremy Clarke
JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - South Sudan's army accused the north on Friday of bombing its territory in the third reported air attack in a week, stoking tensions in the final countdown to a southern independence referendum.
No one was immediately available for comment from the northern army. The north has regularly dismissed southern accusations of air attacks.
Southerners are due to vote on January 9 on whether to declare independence -- a referendum they secured in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the north. Analysts expect most southerners to choose secession.
Southern leaders have accused the north of trying to disrupt the vote to preserve control of the region's oil and say the north bombed southern territory on Monday and Tuesday and in November to provoke a southern counter-attack.
"We can confirm that 18 bombs were dropped inside southern territory by northern forces. They hit southern villages," said southern army (SPLA) spokesman Philip Aguer.
He said the attack took place in Western Bahr al-Ghazal sate, which borders north Sudan, on Wednesday.
Aguer said he had no reports of injuries but buildings were destroyed. "They are testing us to see what we will do but we will never retaliate, unless they come on the ground, then we will defend ourselves."
U.N. ceasefire monitors had visited the sites of the previous reported bombings but investigations were still in progress, said U.N. spokesman Kouider Zerrouk.
The north has also accused the south of building up weapons and troops close to their ill-defined, shared border.
A south Sudanese official told U.S. diplomats in 2009 the region was expecting to receive a delivery of tanks via Kenya and Uganda, according to cables published by WikiLeaks late on Thursday.
The south's semi-autonomous government has always publicly denied having anything to do with a consignment of 33 T-72 battle tanks on the Ukrainian ship, MV Faina, that was seized by pirates en route to Kenya in 2008 and later released.
But an official with the Government of southern Sudan (GOSS) later told U.S. diplomats he had urged Nairobi to send the tanks to the south, according to the U.S. cable released on WikiLeaks, dating back to July 2009.
"GOSS xxxxxxxxxxxx (name blanked out in published cable) has admitted that ... he pressed Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula on the need to expedite delivery to South Sudan of tanks off-loaded from the MV Faina," the cable read.
The SPLA spokesman on Friday repeated the south's denial of ordering the tanks and declined to comment on the cable.
Both north and south Sudan were supposed to scale down the size of their forces under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which added they needed to get the permission of a north-south committee to procure new arms.