November 14, 2016 (JUBA) - South Sudan’s armed opposition faction under the leadership of the former vice president, Riek Machar withdrew from a key town in oil-rich Unity state after capturing it, casting doubt on possibilities of resuming oil production in the area.
- South Sudanese rebel troops loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar stand on guard in Unity state capital Bentiu on 12 January 2014 after recapturing the strategic town from government troops (Photo: Reuters)
The retreat from Nhialdiu town ended over two days of squabbles between members of the armed opposition movement, some of who support Machar and those currently backing his successor, Taban Deng Gai.
The withdrawal of rebels could signal a new phase in the intra-rebel fighting that pitted more moderate factions against conservatives across Upper Nile region in past months, undermining the wider battle against forces loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.
A senior member of the armed opposition told Sudan Tribune the controversially appointed first vice president uses money to lure some commanders into joining his faction.
“All the fronts in Upper Nile region are falling apart due to this fighting, and the regime is taking advantage of it. This is what Salva Kiir and his lieutenants are trying to accomplish. They are using divide and rule tactics. Now Taban using is trying very hard so that he pleases Salva Kiir but I don’t think they will succeed because there is no way the cause can easily be forgotten”, he remarked.
The official also denied reports that the opposition forces kidnapped humanitarian workers in Nhialdiu, claiming they voluntarily to ran to the rebel controlled areas in search of security and protection.
“It is not our policy to kidnap humanitarian workers and civilians. When happened and this is what I want to clarify to the general public and the international community is that some civilians, including some of the humanitarian workers fled to areas under our control when fighting was taking place. This is because they feel more safe and protected by our forces. They were not kidnapped”, he stressed.
The armed opposition official was reacting to reports in which the state government claimed rebels kidnapped up to 20 humanitarian workers after managing to briefly overrun Nhialdiu town.
“Please this is to inform you that, a big number of humanitarian workers numbering to 20 had been abducted by the Riek Machar supporters yesterday after they briefly and surprisingly captured the town of Nhaildiu and took those people with them however the government of northern recaptured the town after few hours later”, Northern Liech State Information Minister, Lam Tungwar said in a statement.
He said resumption of hostile activities in the area would gravely undermine efforts by humanitarian aid agencies to assist civilians.
“This is very bad for the humanitarian and the general population of northern Liech state particularly Nhaildiu, such characters are what we had earlier warned and inform our partners about such groups who have been incited by Riek Machar”, explained the minister.
The state government strongly condemned the incident, saying measures would be taken to ensure the abducted workers were safely brought back.