July 14, 2014 (KAMPALA) – The South Sudanese rebel faction said they killed 15 government troops in what they described as an attempt to cattle raid in Unity state on Sunday.
- Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) disembark from a pick-up truck in Unity state capital Bentiu on 12 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Andreea Campeanu)
The incident reportedly occurred in Panhiany and Thowmangor to the south of the state capital, Bentiu.
Speaking to Sudan Tribune by satellite phone interview Monday, rebel spokesman Peter Riak Gew said opposition forces had recovered 120 cows and reunited them with their owners.
“Yesterday we have clashes with militia under the government trying to raid cows from civilians. We seriously engaged with them around those villages surrounding Bentiu town,” said Gew.
He claimed government troops had suffered heavy losses during the attempted attack, saying at least 25 soldiers were seriously injured, but downplayed the number of rebel casualties.
Gew accused government troops of targeting civilian properties and of failing to observe law and order.
“We cannot call them a government, but a group of looters who have no obligation for (their) own people in the country,” he said.
“If the regime of president [Salva] Kiir would means to love the people of this country, why should they take their properties or cows by force?” he added.
An officer from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) who spoke on condition of anonymity told Sudan Tribune that over 34 government soldiers were airlifted to the capital, Juba, on Monday to receive treatment for their injuries sustained during clashes with rebel fighters in the Bentiu area.
He refuted claims government troops had targeted civilians in the area, counter accusing rebels of violations.
Another source from the SPLA dismissed rebel claims that 15 soldiers had been killed in the clashes, putting the death toll at six.
Rebels continue to blame government troops for mistreating and harassing civilians in areas under their control.
Meanwhile, Unity state MP Peter Dak Khan, who took up arms against the government over an alleged massacre of Nuer people in Juba at the genesis of the conflict, has levelled similar accusations against the government, saying it is failing to abide by a peace protocol signed by both warring parties in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in January.
Conflict first erupted in Juba in mid-December last year after a political split in the ruling SPLM turned violent, triggering tribal tensions across the country.
The fighting has pitted government troops loyal to Kiir, a Dinka, against rebel forces led by former vice-president Riek Machar, who is of Nuer ethnicity.
Last week, rebels claimed the SPLA had launched coordinated attacks on rebel positions in the Wangkei and Kabelek payams (districts) of Guit county before being driven back to Unity state capital Bentiu.
A number of displaced residents who have sought refuge at the UN base in Bentiu claimed fighting between the warring parties had also resumed in the capital and areas around Mayom county.
In an incident earlier this month, a captain from the SPLA’s fifth division who hailed from the Dinka tribe was shot dead by a Nuer commanding officer after he allegedly raped a teenage girl in Unity state’s Rubkotna county.
Unity state has continued to witness heavy fighting between the rival parties, changing hands several times at the height of the conflict.