April 22, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army (SPLA) said on Tuesday that it had repulsed rebel fighters under the leadership of former vice-president Riek Machar from attempting to extend their control on a number of fronts in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states.
- The South Sudanese army (SPLA) spokesperson, Phillip Aguer (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Philip Aguer, the spokesperson for the army, said government troops had tactically decided to pull out of Mayom, a key strategic county located on the border with Sudan to the west of the Unity state capital, Bentiu.
“SPLA forces have been fighting serious and heavy battles in Unity state and they are still continuing as we speak,” Aguer told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday.
“But because our forces did not want to cause destruction and to avoid civilians being caught up in the crossfire, because you know that Mayom was inhabited by the civil population who returned to the area after the SPLA forces took control in January, they decided to make tactical withdrawal. But they are still around. They did not go far,” he added.
Rebel fighters who took control of Bentiu last week conducted searches on civilians sheltering in mosques, churches and a hospital, killing people based on their ethnicity or nationality, the United Nations said in its report issued on Monday.
“Fighting is ongoing, we are close by and will not let the rebels advance further,” Aguer remarked, insisting that the army remained in control of major oil fields and the country’s refinery, also located in Unity state.
Rebel spokesman Brig. Gen. Lul Ruai Koang denied, in a statement on Tuesday, UN reports which accused of them of committing atrocities in Bentiu town after taking control from government troops, describing it as “unfounded, cheap propaganda”.
“These are ridiculous allegations fabricated by enemies of war of resistance for democratic reforms. These allegations are aimed at tarnishing our image, name and reputation,” Ruai said in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune on Tuesday.
“Our democratic forces have crystal clear rules of engagement and operate under strict orders not to target civilians and other nonmilitary targets,” he added.
He said government troops and their allied fighters were entirely responsible for systematic killing of civilians and foreign nationals in Bentiu town and Rubkona.
“The government forces and their allies committed these heinous crimes while retreating,” he claimed, adding that fighters under the command of Major General Simon Gatwech Dual had taken control of Jonglei’s Duk county on Tuesday.
“The SPLA/SPLM forces, under the overall command of Maj. General Simon Gatwech Dual, this morning liberated Mareng, an administrative headquarters of Duk county, along with other government military outposts of Pajut, Duk Deng, Patuo-Noy and Poktap,” Ruai said in a statement.
He claimed that government troops were retreating towards Twic East county.
“Our regular forces and volunteer fighters conducted operation against government forces. The combined forces are moving with lightning speed in order to go and rescue survivors of Bor massacre last week,” the statement adds.
The South Sudan army spokesperson also confirmed that heavy fighting occurred in eastern Jonglei and north-east Upper Nile state, but said rebel attempts were repulsed during which scores of opposition fighters were allegedly killed.
“The SPLA forces in Upper Nile repulsed rebels attack today. We do not have complete details of the fighting but the report we have indicate that 48 rebels were killed,northeast Aguer said on Tuesday.
“The fighting in Jonglei was heavy but the rebels were also repulsed,” he said.
Sudan Tribune was unable to independently verify rebel claims that they had taken over some areas in Jonglei, as well as government claims of killing several rebels in Upper Nile.
The latest clashes have drawn international condemnation and calls for those responsible to be held accountable. The United States has already threatened sanctions against those responsible for the continued war.
On Tuesday, Samantha Power, the US envoy to the UN, warned that “all responsible for South Sudan horrors and deliberately targeting civilians must be held accountable”.