KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has arrived in the oil-rich disputed border town that has sparked a surge in violence with South Sudan and drawn the two closer to full-scale war.
Al-Bashir's visit Monday to Heglig follows claims that his forces liberated the town from Southern Sudanese troops. But officials in South Sudan said they pulled out to avoid escalation.
The official Sudanese news agency said al-Bashir will inspect the damage in the town.
Fighting along the north-south border has been near constant since April. But it intensified when southern forces captured the Heglig region. Al-Bashir has vowed to teach his southern neighbors a lesson.
Al-Bashir's forces bombed a major town inside South Sudan Monday.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BENTIU, South Sudan (AP) — Sudanese warplanes bombed a major town Monday in South Sudan, hitting a market and killing a boy while wounding at least 10 people. South Sudanese troops fired back as the threat of full-scale war between the two nations loomed.
The bombs fell with a whistling sound from two MiG 29 jets and exploded, reducing several stalls in a market where food and other household items are sold to twisted metal and setting some ablaze. The burned body of the boy lay flat on his back near the center of the blast site, his hand clutching at the sky. A hospital official in Bentiu said 10 people were wounded.
Trucks packed with South Sudanese soldiers sped off in the direction where the bombs landed and the soldiers started shooting at the Sudanese jets.
"The bombing amounts to a declaration of war," said Maj. Gen. Mac Paul, the Deputy Director of Military Intelligence for South Sudan.
Sudanese armed forces launched an attack Sunday more than six miles (nine kilometers) inside South Sudan's border. Last week the south announced it was pulling its troops from the disputed oil town of Heglig to avoid an all-out war between the two neighbors, but tensions remained high. South Sudan had invaded Heglig earlier this month, saying it belonged to the south.
Mac Paul said two MiG 29 jets belonging to Sudan dropped three bombs on Monday, two of which landed near a bridge that connects Bentiu, the capital of Unity State and Rubkona, another town.
It was not the first time Sudan has targeted the bridge between Bentiu and Rubkona. Two Sukhoi fighters dropped bombs within 100 meters (yards) of the same bridge earlier this month.
Sudan and South Sudan, the world's newest country, have been drawing closer to war in recent months over the sharing of oil revenues and a disputed border.
On Saturday night, a Muslim mob burned a Catholic church in Sudan frequented mostly by South Sudanese. The church in Khartoum's Al-Jiraif district was built on a disputed plot of land, but the attack appeared to be part of the fallout from ongoing hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan.
Mac Paul said late Sunday that South Sudan is building up its forces because they think Sudan is also doing the same.
The international community, led by the U.S., has called for the two countries to stop all military actions against each other and restart negotiations to solve their disputes.
President Barack Obama on Friday asked the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan to resume negotiations and said that conflict is not inevitable.
African Union-mediated talks between the two countries recently broke down in Ethiopia. The African Union on Sunday called on Sudan and South Sudan to end "senseless fighting."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday the U.S. strongly condemns Sudan's military incursion into South Sudan, and called for the immediate halt of aeriel and artillery bombardment in South Sudan.
"We recognize the right of South Sudan to self-defense and urge South Sudan to exercise restraint in its reaction to Sudan's attack in Unity State," she said.
The European Union in a statement on Monday also urged Sudan and South Sudan to end their armed confrontation and negotiate. The EU welcomed South Sudan's decision to withdraw its troops from neighboring Sudan's oil-rich town of Heglig and warned the government not to mount any more attacks.
It also called on Sudan to refrain from attacking the withdrawing forces and cease aerial bombardment of South Sudan.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan in July last year after an independence vote, the culmination of a 2005 peace treaty that ended decades of war that killed more than 2 million people.