January 10, 2014 (BENTIU) - South Sudan’s army (SPLA) has vowed to move and retake Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state from rebels who defected from the military last month.
- South Sudan army spokesperson Phillip Aguer (AP)
"Our forces were involved in several clashes with the rebels as we move towards regaining control of Unity state", said army spokesperson Phillip Aguer.
But Peter Riek Gew, a spokesperson for the rebels on Thursday maintained that they were still in control of Unity state capital, Bentiu as well as the oil-producing areas.
"Our forces are in full control of Bentiu town and oil producing areas such as Unity, Tor and Toma South", Gew told Sudan Tribune.
On 21 December, the commander of the SPLA fourth division in Unity state defected after fighting erupted between the army in capital, Juba on 15 December. Large parts of the army in Jonglei state also defected as violence rocked the nation.
However, Gordon Buay, who claims to be the spokesperson of the former rebels South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) and currently fighting alongside SPLA forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, posted a report on facebook on Thursday saying their troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Mathew Pul Jang had recaptured Bentiu.
This has, however, been denied by the rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar. The two sides are currently holding negotiations in Ethiopia. After over a week of talks, no progress appears to have been made to bring an end to hostilities.
Juba has always denied Khartoum’s allegations that members of rebel coalition - the Sudan Revolutionary Front - were using South Sudan as a base for their operations in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Gew said that the South Sudan rebel forces have engaged in heavy clashes with Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) one of the three Darfuri members of the SRF in the western part of Panakuach south of Tor oil-field.
"We have managed to repulse back the attack by JEM inside our territory in South Sudan. This is not the first attack by the Sudanese rebels on us" Gew said, vowing to defeat the Sudanese rebel group should they show support for President Kiir.
JEM earlier issued a statement denying any involvement in the South Sudan conflict and instead advanced its support for peace negotiations between the warring parties.
Meanwhile, the rebels have warned both Sudan to the north and Uganda to the south against interfering in the conflict. Uganda has sent troops to South Sudan at the behest of President Kiir, but has denied it is taking an active role in the conflict.
The Sudanese president, during his visit to Juba on Monday supported calls for peaceful dialogue in the country as proposed by regional leaders from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).