August 17, 2014 (KAMPALA) – Rebels from South Sudan’s Unity state claimed they have withdrawn from a 2km zone around the twin towns of Bentiu and Rubkotna after government forces launched attacks on their positions in Guit, Nhialdiu and Kaljak on Friday.
- 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)
Speaking by satellite phone on Sunday from an undisclosed location, Mayom county MP Peter Dak Khan told Sudan Tribune that rebel fighters had been forced to retaliate after frequent attacks by pro-government forces.
He said rebel forces had now surrounded the town, warning of further strikes on the town should the South Sudanese army (SPLA) launch any further attacks.
“We have not gone very far, we are around Bentiu, but we are only coming back when they (the SPLA) attack our position,” said Khan.
The rebel group claim it remains committed to achieving a peaceful settlement to the eight-month-long conflicts, accusing the government of failing to implement a January ceasefire agreement by launching attacks on their positions in several locations across Unity state.
On Friday, rebel forces claimed to have captured both towns after flushing out government troops east of Rubkotna county.
Many residents sheltering at the UN camp in the town have confirmed the presence of rebel fighters since Friday to Sudan Tribune.
Conflicting reports have emerged following the latest outbreak of violence in Unity state, with both sides claiming to be in control of the towns.
A senior government official in the ruling party (SPLM) from Unity state has blamed rebels for violating the cessation of hostilities agreement.
“Everything like foods, heavy weapons and big trucks loaded with fuel are all looted by rebels. The rebels are still close with us anytime we will engage in fighting. They have not gone very far,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
According to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), fighting broke out between 6:30am and 9:00am (local time) on Friday, involving the use of heavy, sustained small arms and artillery fire, which could be heard to the south-east of its base in Bentiu. One artillery shell reportedly exploded next to the UN base without harm.
It has condemned the latest violence, urging both parties to remain calm and refrain from further military action that may harm civilians in the area or impede humanitarian access.
One resident from the UN camp in Rubkotna told Sudan Tribune that rebel forces had apparently disappeared 12 hours after capturing both towns, with the SPLA reappearing on Saturday following the withdrawal.
Oil-rich Unity state has been a flashpoint for violence since the conflict erupted in mid-December last year following a political dispute within the SPLM, with Bentiu changing hands several times at the height of the crisis.
Thousands of civilians were forced to abandon homes after heavy fighting between pro-government and opposition forces in the Upper Nile region, which has been hard-hit by the conflict.
The latest fighting erupted a day after a delegation from the UN Security Council visited the country.