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Residents begin returning to Unity state capital

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January 22, 2014 (KAMPALA) - The deputy governor of South Sudan’s Unity state, Mabek Lang De Mading, says Bentiu is witnessing progressive return of people who were displaced by the recent fighting.

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A South Sudanese government soldier carries an ammunition box from storage at the airport in Jonglei state capital Bor on 19 January 2014 (Photo: AP/Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin)

Government forces retook Bentiu on January 12 after a large segment of the army defected on December 20 following a rebellion days earlier in Jonglei state which was triggered by infighting between members of the Presidential Guard in Juba in mid-December.

Speaking to Sudan Tribune on Wednesday De Mading did not say how many residents have returned to the area. But the United Nations says that 117,500 people from Unity state have been displaced during the fighting. Around 40,000 IDPs moved to Leer county, 130km from Bentiu.

The deputy governor said the South Sudanese army (SPLA) are now advancing towards the Tharjath oil fields, which are currently occupied by rebel forces.

Oil production is reported to have dropped from 240,000 barrels per day to 200,000 bpd due to key staff leaving some of Unity state’s oil field due to the insecurity.

Bentiu town has been heavily damaged during the fighting between rebels and government troops. An unknown number of people have been killed in Unity state but the International Crisis Group estimate that some 10,000 people have been killed across the country.

The conflict has also affected South Sudan’s other main oil-producing state, Upper Nile.

Some Bentiu residents are unwilling to return to their homes due the number of dead bodies that have not been buried and the lack of food in the area. As well as the 10,000 who have sheltered at the UN base, many people have sought refuge in the state legislative assembly and other government buildings.

A resident in Bentiu, who wished to remain anonymous, told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday that hundreds of people are stranded in the town lacking humanitarian assistance.

"We have been here for the last one week and half, but we never receive any assistants from aid agencies. Our children are sick throughout facing rough hunger after our homes were raided", she said.

The situation in Bentiu is "horrible" she said, with many children malnourished and in need of food.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing foods items to the 10,000 people that have taken refuge in the UN compound in Rubkotna which is about 20 kilometres north of Bentiu town.

In the five week of conflict over half a million people have been displaced since the violence erupted in Juba on 15 December.

(ST)

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