Khartoum - Hundreds of Muslims stormed a Christian church complex used by southerners in Khartoum at the weekend, witnesses said, raising fears that recent clashes between Sudan and South Sudan were stoking ethnic tensions in the city.

The attackers ransacked buildings, knocked down walls and burned Bibles on Saturday, Youssef Matar, secretary general of the Presbyterian Evangelical Church told Reuters.

South Sudan, where most follow Christian and traditional African beliefs, declared independence from Sudan in July after decades of civil war with the overwhelmingly Muslim north.

But hundreds of thousands of southerners, and people from regions close to the shared border, remain in Khartoum, many of them in a state of legal limbo.

The attack on the church came a day after South Sudan's army pulled out of the key Heglig oilfield, an area it seized from Sudan in the worst violence between the two countries since secession.

Sudan quickly declared victory over its former civil war foe, prompting widespread celebrations in Khartoum.

A Muslim preacher known for fiery sermons took advantage of the excited climate to call for “jihad” against Christians during Friday evening prayers, prompting hundreds to attack the church complex the next day, Matar said.

“No one could believe it. Nothing like this has ever happened before,” Matar said.

While Sudan is known for long and bitter conflicts fuelled by religious and ethnic animosity, communal violence in the capital is relatively rare. But communities also live separately for the most part and distrust between them often runs deep.

Ethiopians, Eritreans and Indians, as well as Christians from Sudan and South Sudan, use the church, Matar said.

A Reuters witness on Sunday saw smoke rising from some of the trees on the church compound, and security vehicles waiting nearby. Part of a brick wall was destroyed.

Matar said three people who had tried to defend the area had suffered light wounds, and said he had contacted authorities to defend the church. “We're citizens, we're Sudanese, we're not foreigners,” he said. “They should protect us.” - Reuters