January 1, 2014 (BENTIU) - South Sudanese rebels in Unity state have dismissed as "rubbish" a statement by the former rebel South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), who claimed to have recaptured Mayom county, particularly the oil producing Manga and Tor areas from dissent forces loyal to ex-vice president Riek Machar.
- South Sudan Liberation Army’s (SSLA) rebels in Unity state, August 2011 (ST)
Peter Riak Gew, a spokesperson for the rebels confirmed that their forces on Wednesday clashed with government troops in Abiemhnom county, saying they they repulsed the latter back to neighbouring Warrap state.
“Our people here including those living in Mayom were surprised by the false reports aired out by Miraya FM radio and other media outlet claiming that Mayom and other places are under government control", Gew said in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.
The Rebel spokesperson was reacting to a statement released by the SSLA spokesperson Gordon Buay who claimed Wednesday morning that their troops, which merged with the regular army, recaptured Mayom on the first day of 2014.
"The SPLA forces, under the command of Maj. Gen. Mathews Pul Jang, captured Mayom, Timor, Parieng and Manga in one day on Jan, 1st, 2014 and are now advancing to Bentiu town", reads a statement Buay released.
Buay further accused the rebel Gen. James Koang of planning to blow up a bridge connecting Bentiu with the other counties in Unity state to prevent SPLA tanks to cross the river, warning that such action "would amount to a war crime".
But Gew said forces loyal to South Sudan’s former vice-president Riek Machar were "strong enough" to defend Unity state.
"The fourth division has not lost control of any of Unity state since it mutinied”, he stressed.
Large parts of Jonglei state’s division of SPLA defected last month days after fighting broke out mid-December in the South Sudanese capital, Juba between members of the presidential guard.
Koang who defected and took control of the army’s fourth division in Unity state on Saturday 21 December, last week told Sudan Tribune that oil production was halted and oil workers evacuated on 25 December.
Meanwhile, the SPLA has not commented on reports that its forces were moving towards Unity state capital, Bentiu, in a bid to retake the town from dissent forces.
“Forces loyal to the former vice-president Riek Machar still control Bentiu … It is just a matter of time before the SPLA restores law and order in the state”, the army spokesperson Colonel Phillip Aguer said on Wednesday without giving further details.
Over 1,000 people have died in the fighting and some 200,000 people displaced by the conflict. Negotiations between the rebels and the government are scheduled to begin on Thursday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.