May 4, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s defence minister announced on Sunday that government troops had recaptured of Upper Nile state’s Nasir town, one of the strongholds of rebel fighters under the leadership of former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar.
- SPLA soldiers sit in a pick-up in the key north oil city of Bentiu after capturing it from rebels on 12 January 2014 (Photo: AFP/Simon Maina)
The South Sudanese army also claimed to have taken Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state.
Defence minister Kuol Manyang Juuk told Sudan Tribune Sunday that government troops were reacting “in self defence” to attacks by rebel fighters on the positions of the latter
“There has been a fighting in Upper Nile and Unity states. The rebels of Riek Machar have been attacking positions of our forces for the last few days even after the talks have resumed,” said minister Juuk in an interview conducted on Sunday.
“They continued to carry out these attacks in clear violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement,” he added.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) spokesperson, Philip Aguer, also confirmed the captures of Nasir, adding that a separate major assault on Bentiu has been launched.
“Nasir is now under complete control of our forces and it is just a matter of time before the SPLA take complete control of the security situation,” Aguer said in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Sunday.
The military officer said the rebel fighters fled the town into disarray and the government troops were still pursuing them.
Nasir which is located on the north side of the Sobat River, is at 30 kilometres from the Ethiopian border.
The town was under the control of the rebel SPLM-In-Opposition since the start of the conflict and Riek Machar met there with many foreign diplomats and journalists.
Aguer also said the SPLA troops have retaken Bentiu from the rebels who had recaptured it for the second time on 15 April.
“Our forces also launched similar operations in Unity state and there were heavy fighting too. They (the rebels) tried to resist but our forces have made significant progress. They are already inside Bentiu town, trying to clear it of rebel remnants,” said the military spokesperson.
South Sudan rebel commander in Unity state Maj.Gen. James Koang Chuol confirmed the recapture of Bentiu town and accused the Sudanese rebel groups of JEM and SPLA-N of participating in the attack besides the South Sudanese army.
The rebel general who was speaking to Sudan Tribune through a satellite telephone however warned they would recapture the capital of the oil rich state.
“We will kick them out soon, it will not take us some days or hours,” Choul said.
Multiple UN sources reported seeing a long line of government troops moving in convoy of heavily armed opened vehicles and tanks moving Bentiu town on Sunday.
“A huge force moving slowly passed near our office this morning. It was heading toward the Bentiu town. They were moving in heavily armoured Personnel Carriers. They were not shooting but we have heard sound of heavy firing before they came”, a UN source told Sudan Tribune on Sunday in an e-mail message.
The warring parties resumed peace talks in Addis Ababa amid strong international pressures to stop the fighting and allow humanitarian access to civilians and IDPs camps.
Also, Washington called on president Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar to meet as soon as possible and recommit themselves to the ceasefire agreement and strike a political deal.
Sudan Tribune has learnt that the fighting broke out on Sunday in the far north of Upper Nile state, as the rebels are now heading to Renk town after controlling Gerger and Jalhak areas.