April 25, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army (SPLA) said on Friday that it has regained control of the strategic town of Mayom in Unity state, claiming that it is only a matter of time before it will exert full control over all rebel-held areas.
- Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) on guard in Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan’s Unity state on 12 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
“Yes, our forces are in Mayom. They have captured it from the rebels and it is a matter of time before they take complete control of all the areas,” SPLA spokesperson Colonel Philip Aguer said on Friday.
In an exclusive interview, Aguer told Sudan Tribune that government troops have a “constitutional mandate to provide security and protection to people and their properties”.
Rebels led by former vice-president Riek Machar took control of the Unity state capital, Bentiu, on 15 April. The conflict began in December when large sections of the army and some senior members of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) defected.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has accused opposition forces of carrying out targeted killings and inciting “vengeful sexual violence” over local radio after regaining control of Bentiu from government troops.
It is alleged that civilians who were hiding inside Bentiu hospital were killed for not joining fellow members of the Nuer ethnic group who had gone onto the streets to celebrate the capture of the town by rebel forces, according to UNMISS.
UNMISS has also accused rebels of carrying out a massacre at a local mosque in which 200 civilians who had taken refuge inside were killed after opposition forces separated individuals on the basis of their nationality and ethnic group.
The SPLA “will definitely go to Bentiu and push those rebels out. It is just a matter of time and all the areas within territorial jurisdiction of the Republic of South Sudan will be secure. We have the mandate to provide protection and to secure safety of our people and their properties,” Aguer said.
The senior officer further added that government forces have also gained control of Ayod – a rebel stronghold in eastern Jonglei state – for the first time since violence erupted in December last year.
Observers say the capture of Ayod if confirmed by independent sources, would raise the morale of government forces and put pressure on rebels fighting to extend their control of strategic areas and key oilfieldsin Upper Nile state
It remains unclear how the government troops managed to cross into Mayom town following reports last week that it destroyed a bridge which links the area with neighbouring Warrap state.
The town borders both Unity and Warrap states, close to the border with Sudan, which South Sudan split from in 2011 as part of a 2005 peace deal.
Rebels from the SPLM in Opposition said they captured Mayom on 21 April. Analysts said that rebels could have used the area as a base to attack Warrap state and areas beyond.
Sudan Tribune was unable to independently verify government claims that it has recaptured the area and neither the rebel military spokesperson nor any of their officials have confirmed or denied the area had fallen under government control.