December 19, 2013 (BENTIU) - Officials in South Sudan’s Unity state said clashes between oil workers from rival clans at the Unity and Tharjath oil fields on Thursday have left 16 dead, while over 200 people from the Dinka tribe are currently seeking refuge in the UN compound in Bentiu town.
- A SPLA soldier walks by an area destroyed by a Sudanese airstrike near the oil town of Bentiu (Photo: File/Reuters)
In an exclusive interview on Thursday, acting state governor Mabeak Lang De Mading told Sudan Tribune the incident took place at about 2am (local time) when oil company employees from the Nuer tribe coordinated twin attacks on both oil fields, targeting Dinka employees in the area.
The oil workers reportedly used spears, sticks and knives in the attack.
Tensions have been building in the Nuer community in Bentiu after it emerged around 500 people were killed by security personnel loyal to South Sudanese president Salva Kiir in an outbreak of violence in the capital, Juba.
The latest outbreak of violence came just hours after state government officials called for calm in a radio broadcast on state-run Bentiu FM 99. In the broadcast officials cautioned communities to refrain from carrying revenge attacks on Dinka tribe members living in Bentiu.
Mading said the government is now working on widening its security measures for the protection of all people.
"We are calling on the general public to refrain from killing each other; as the case in Juba is national issue, it should not be put on tribal lines", he said.
However, Sudan Tribune’s correspondent in Unity State reported hearing heavy gunfire in the Bentiu area from 7pm local time. It has not been possible to confirm the exact location.
About 500 people had been killed in Juba since clashes broke out late on Sunday, after forces alleged to be loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar launched an attack on a South Sudanese army (SPLA) barracks in Juba.
Kiir initially accused his former deputy and his supporters of orchestrating an alleged coup attempt to overthrow the government, although he has since back-tracked on those statements.
Reports are emerging that soldiers specifically targeted people from the Nuer ethnic group as violence spread across the capital.
US-based think tank think International Crisis Group (ICG) warned on Thursday that South Sudan was on the brink of a full-scale civil war, as the conflict increasingly takes on tribal dimensions.
On Wednesday, SPLA defectors believed to be loyal to Machar seized control of Jonglei state capital Bor.
The soldiers are led by dissident commander Gen. Peter Gatdet Yak, who reportedly defected from the SPLA after allegations Nuer were targeted in the current tensions.
South Sudan Red Cross (SSRC) said at least 19 bodies were found on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 22, including three children who perished after their boat capsized while attempting to cross the Nile River.
Thousands of people are also taking shelter inside the city’s UN compound.
Bentiu resident Younis Biel says he blames both Kiir and Machar for the current chaos engulfing in the country.
He also urged the international community to put more efforts in to preventing the conflict escalating into civil war.
“If the world leaders would have not forgotten us they would have captured both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar to be answerable on the deadly incidents. Our citizens suffer most on the hand of Salva Kiir and Riek Machar’, said Biel.
Biel said he was concerned that after South Sudan’s more than two-decades-long struggle with Sudan for freedom and independence, the new nation was now at risk of dividing itself along ethnic lines.
In a telephone conversation with Kiir on Wednesday, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon called for an amicable and peaceful resolution to the current crisis through dialogue rather than violence.