The gigantic Antonovs were a familiar sight during the south’s long, bitter struggle for independence from the greater Sudan. Sudan doesn’t have much in the way of sophisticated jet fighters, so for its bombing runs it uses lumbering old Russian Antonov cargo plans. These swept low over the targeted rebel base/refugee camp/village, rear doors open, and bombs were simply rolled off the back of the plane. Aim is by eye, and accuracy is not good.
Four months after independence, an Antonov made another appearance in the skies above the South Sudan. “…there was a deep and terrifying thud of a nearby explosion,” wrote BBC journalist James Copnall, who was in the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity State, where the bombs were aimed. “A large plane glinting silver against the sun was spotted heading to the north…The refugees said the plane had circled, then launched two bombing raids. They said five bombs were dropped, of which four exploded.”
South Sudanese government officials claim 12 people died in the attack. Humanitarian organisations say no one was injured. The Sudanese government says the bombing didn’t happen at all, although there is enough independent verification to make its denial extremely hard to believe; especially after last week’s explicit threats of war from various high-level Sudanese government officials.
Yida refugee camp hosts thousands of people who have fled to South Sudan from Sudan, after the conflict intensified between rebels and the government in the disputed states of Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. This latest cross-border bombing raid is a message to the rebels that Khartoum’s reach stretches into the new country of South Sudan – and there’s not much the south can do about it. DM
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