August 11, 2014 (KAMPALA) – Fighting is continuing in South Sudan’s Unity state despite the resumption of peace talks resuming between the country’s warring parties in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
- 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)
Rebel forces have been battling government troops in a series of exchanges over control of the oil hub capital of Bentiu.
The opposition groups led by former vice-president Riek Machar has also accused the South Sudanese army (SPLA) of launching another offensive against their positions in Rubkotna county’s Kaljak payam (district) on Monday.
Speaking to Sudan Tribune on Monday by satellite phone, Unity state rebel spokesperson Peter Riek Gew said rebel forces had repulsed an attempted attack by the SPLA on their position.
Gew said five government soldiers were killed and two rebel fighters injured in Monday’s battle in Kaljak, about 20km west of Bentiu town.
Unity state has been the scene of intense fighting between rebel forces and government troops loyal to president Salva Kiir since conflict erupted in mid-December last year, with Bentiu changing hands several times at the height of the conflict.
Gew has accused the government of failing to respect a peace deal brokered in January and recommitted to in May by the two parties, saying SPLA forces continued to target civilians and their property.
“We have been respecting the signed cessation of hostility since January 23 and 9 May, but the government and their allies have never given [a] chance to peace,” he said, calling on the international community to hold the South Sudanese government to account for ceasefire violations and atrocities committed against civilians.
“The intention of government troops was to loot [the] properties of civilians, which is against their mandate. We all know those fighting alongside with Kiir are militias [and] not the real army,” said Gew.
He blamed militia fighters from the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) under Mathew Puljang and Bapiny Monytuel and other tribal militias loyal to Kiir for attacking civilians.
He claims rebel fighters were forced to respond in self-defence after government militias began looting and attacking civilians.
“We had no intention to attack [the] SPLA, but we are only fighting in self-defence for our enemies. Our leadership has briefed us a lot not to launch counter attacks, but we are in high alert for any violation of the 9 May agreement,” said Gew.
He said Kiir has continually failed to control several militia groups fighting alongside the SPLA, including the SSLA, Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North, saying the groups were failing to respect the terms of the ceasefire deal.
“It is very unfortunate for president Kiir to control such forces with different commands,” said Gew.
In a separate interview with Sudan Tribune, an aid worker from Unity state spoke of hearing reoccurring gunfire Kaljak payam between the army and rebel fighters, but declined to comment on what sparked the fighting in the area.
“What I know [is that] Kaljak is under [the] rebels’ control and it was a surprise to hear heavy clashes erupted while the two group are for peace talks in Ethiopia,” the aid worker said on condition of anonymity.
Jak Khor, who has been displaced from his home and is now residing in Bentiu town confirmed to Sudan Tribune that fresh fighting had broken out in the area on Monday.
He told Sudan Tribune that the military presence had been beefed up over the past week, with a number of additional uniformed troops deployed to the area.