Satellite images show a key part of the oil infrastructure in Sudan’s contested Heglig region was destroyed during recent border fighting with South Sudan, a monitoring group said yesterday.
South Sudan seized Heglig, a border region that accounts for about half of Sudan’s 115,000 barrel-a-day oil output, on April 10, saying it was acting in self-defense after Sudan launched a ground attack from the area.
On Friday, South Sudan, under international pressure to withdraw, said it was pulling out to create an environment for talks, and the Sudanese army later said it had “liberated” the area. South Sudan said its troops were bombed as they withdrew.
The Satellite Sentinel Project, founded by Sudan activists, including US actor George Clooney, said recent satellite imagery showed “an oil collection manifold” in the Heglig area had apparently been blown up.
“The destroyed structure appears consistent with a collection manifold because of its shape and its location at the junction of multiple pipelines,” it said in a statement, adding that a collection manifold connects piping systems together to divide or combine different flows of oil.
“The destruction of this particular collection manifold would likely result in the immediate cessation of oil flow in the area,” it said.
The group said the images were captured on April 15, but it could not tell whether the damage was caused by aerial bombardment or ground action. It was not clear when the oil equipment had been damaged or by which side.
Access to the remote border area is limited, making it hard to verify often contradictory statements from the two countries.
South Sudanese forces were pulling out from Heglig on Saturday, an official said, as US President Barack Obama called on both states to resume talks.
“Our troops are still withdrawing; it will take three days,” South Sudanese Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said. “We are responding to the request of the UN Security Council and others, as a member of the UN and the African Union [AU].”
Sudanese army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad said on Saturday afternoon: “Now the fighting in Heglig is finished.”
Border clashes between Sudan and South Sudan escalated earlier this month with waves of air strikes hitting the South, and Juba seizing the Heglig oil hub on April 10, sparking fears of a wider war.
Obama said late on Friday: “The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan must have the courage to return to the table and negotiate and resolve these issues peacefully.”
“We know what needs to happen — the government of Sudan must stop its military actions, including aerial bombardments,” he said in a videotaped message to the people of the two countries.
“Likewise, the government of South Sudan must end its support for armed groups inside Sudan and it must cease its military actions across the border,” Obama added in the address, released by the US Department of State.
South Sudan has denied supporting opposition groups in the north.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged both governments “to resume negotiations immediately” under a mediation effort led by AU envoy Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president.
Sudan pulled out of those talks after the Heglig invasion.
Although South Sudan disputes it, Heglig is internationally regarded as part of Sudan.
Juba, which claimed Heglig was being used by Khartoum as a base to attack the South’s oil-producing Unity State, argues Heglig is its territory and has asked for international arbitration.