Sudan bombs South Sudan border area, kills 3 - witnesses

OUTSIDE BENTIU, South Sudan Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:01pm BST

1 of 7. A SPLA soldier walks in a market destroyed in an air strike by the Sudanese air force in Rubkona near Bentiu April 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

OUTSIDE BENTIU, South Sudan (Reuters) - Sudan carried out airstrikes on South Sudan on Monday, killing three people near an oil town, residents and military officials said, three days after South Sudan pulled out of a disputed oil field.

A Reuters reporter at the scene, outside the oil town and Unity state capital Bentiu, said he saw a fighter aircraft drop two bombs near a river bridge between Bentiu and the neighbouring town of Rubkona.

"I can see market stalls burning in Rubkona in the background and the body of a small child burning," he said.

Mac Paul, deputy head of South Sudan's military intelligence, said two Sudanese MiG-29s had dropped four bombs in the area. "This is a serious escalation and violation of the territory of South Sudan. It's a clear provocation," Paul said.

Sudan denied it carried out the bombing.

"We have no relation to what happened in Unity state, and we absolutely did not bomb anywhere in South Sudan," said Sudan's military spokesman, Al-Sawarmi Khalid.

The South Sudan armed forces have 10 helicopters but no fixed-wing aircraft except one Beech 1900 light transport aircraft.

Weeks of border fighting between the two neighbours have brought the former civil war foes closer to a full-blown war than at any time since the South seceded in July.

Immediate tensions eased after the South said on Friday it would withdraw from Heglig, a disputed oil region which it had occupied and is central to Sudan's economy, but the South has accused Khartoum of bombing its territory since then.

On Sunday Sudan denied the charges and said instead it had repulsed a "major" attack on a strategic border state town by rebels it says are backed by South Sudan.

The countries are still at loggerheads over the demarcation of their shared border and other disputes have halted nearly all the oil production that underpins both economies.

South Sudan won its independence in a referendum that was promised in a 2005 peace accord that ended decades of civil war between Khartoum and the south. Religion, ethnicity and oil fuelled that conflict, which killed about 2 million people.

Recent tensions between Sudan and South Sudan have been fuelled by a dispute over how much the landlocked South should pay to export oil via Sudan.

(Reporting by Hereward Holland; Additional reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Alexander Dziadosz; Writing by Ulf Laessing and Alexander Dziadosz; editing by Tim Pearce)