January 3, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army (SPLA) has dismissed reports that rebels, led by former vice-president Riek Machar, were moving towards the capital, Juba, saying they were instead retreating.
- South Sudan army spokesperson Phillip Aguer (AP)
Col. Philip Aguer, the spokesperson (SPLA) told Sudan Tribune on Friday that the rebels "will be running not advancing".
"There is no threat to Juba", Aguer confidently said by phone.
South Sudan has been in state of crisis since President Salva Kiir accused Machar and other senior members of his ruling Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) of attempting to oust his government in mid-December last year.
Infighting within the army on 15 December spread to other parts of the capital, while reports that civilians were targetted on the basis of their ethnicity led to parts of the army rebelling in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states.
Aguer said SPLA forces were advancing towards Bor, the capital of Jonglei, to flush out the rebels that have held the town for three days. The mutineers took control of Bor three days ago - the second time they have wrestled control of the area from government forces since the conflict erupted.
The army spokesperson, however, stressed that the rebels "will be running from Bor, not advancing to Juba".
"We have not yet taken complete control Bor but there is a fighting there. It is a matter of time before our forces get complete control" he said on Friday.
The army, Aguer said, were also looking to retake Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, which is home to South Sudan’s most productive oil fields. The rebels, last week claimed that oil production was halted as key staff were evacuated from the area.
He said the SPLA forces were advancing onto Bentiu from both Panrieng and Mayom counties.
"They have already taken control of Mayom and moving toward Bentiu," explained the spokesperson.
"The only exit strategy for these renegade forces is surrender," he said, adding that the army may attempt to starve them out.
"Their sources of food supplies are looting only. These loots will soon dry off. As a national army, we call on our people to stand behind the SPLA forces in defend of territorial integrity, sovereignty and the constitution," Aguer stressed.
The SPLA stands ready to defend the country, its people, their properties and from protecting them from any physical threat or harm, he added.
But an official connected to the soldiers who rebelled in Unity state told Sudan Tribune that Aguer’s comments were "propaganda" and dismissed the latter’s claims that SPLA had retaken Mayom or was marching onto Bentiu.
"I just talked with people on ground and they told me that forces loyal to Salva Kiir attempted to launch an attack near Mayom, hoping to take it but it was contained. That attempt is no longer a threat to our people and the state administration", said the official who preferred anonymity.
"Everything is running normally. The market is presently operating as usual," he added.
On 21 December the commander of the SPLA’s fourth division in Unity state, James Kaong, announced that he had rebelled against Kiir’s government, declaring that he was the state’s new governor. He has since appointed a new administration.
Representatives from both sides of the conflict have arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for peace talks and are expected to begin negotiations mediated by regional leaders from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
The United Nations says that at least 1,000 people have died and around 200,000 displaced by the conflict as thousands of civilians have sought shelter at UN bases.