Sudan defends use of air strikes in South Sudan conflict

KHARTOUM Sun Apr 29, 2012 7:26am EDT

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations has defended his country's right to use air strikes against South Sudanese troops who Khartoum says are inside Sudanese territory.

Dafallah ElHaj Ali Osman, however, stopped short of saying whether Sudan had carried out the air strikes over the past few weeks that Juba claims Khartoum had launched on its territories.

Weeks of fighting along Sudan and South Sudan's 1,800 km (1,100 mile) contested border has brought the neighbors close to a full-blown war.

The United Nations Security Council has demanded that Sudan immediately stop the air strikes.

Sudan has denied carrying out the air strikes and accused Juba of starting the fighting and troop build-up at the border.

"The Sudanese government has the right to defend the unity of its territories using all means, including the use of aircraft weaponry against these forces, especially because they are inside the territories of the Republic of Sudan," Osman was quoted as saying on the state news agency on Sunday.

SUNA said he also called on the Security Council to "be accurate and precise about reports of aerial bombardments during the time that aggressor troops are present inside Sudanese territories, carrying out military operations against Sudan".

South Sudan's army is known to have 10 helicopters and a light transport aircraft. The Sudanese armed forces are known to have 61 combat capable aircraft, including 23 fighter aircraft.

On Monday Juba said Sudanese warplanes dropped bombs that killed two people in Bentiu, the capital of the South's Unity state and on Saturday it said eight bombs were dropped in Panakuach, also in Unity state.

SUNA said Osman urged the Security Council to condemn the South Sudanese army's (SPLA) "aggression on Sudanese lands".

The neighbors have failed to resolve a string of disputes, including oil export revenues and citizenship, since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan nine months ago.

Tensions between Khartoum and Juba worsened after Sudan said on Saturday it had detained three foreigners it accused of being spies for the SPLA, allegations denied by Juba.

The foreigners included one U.N. staff member as well as demining workers from Norwegian People's Aid and MECHEM, a South African-based demining company.

(Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Diana Abdullah)

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