November 17, 2016 (JUBA) - A South Sudanese official Thursday denied that rebels had seized a locality in his state and described the armed group led by the former First Vice President Riek Machar, as nothing than "organized criminals".
SPLA-IO Spokesperson William Gatjiath Deng Wednesday said they took control of Kaljak in Unity state, in Bazi at the South Sudan-DRC border and Morobo in Central Equatoria.
Northern Liech State Information Minister, Lam Tungwar, told Sudan Tribune on Thursday that it is not true that armed opposition forces are holding any strategic town in the area, describing reports attributed to the military spokesperson of SPLA-IO as "false and mere propaganda".
“What I am telling you is the truth. These people do not have a base. They are only doing hit and run because they are a small force which cannot fight with our forces. They are just there to cause havoc and terrorize civilians. They are just organised criminals,” Tungwar said Thursday.
Tungwar, a former artist turned politician and became a key official in the administration of Unity State before being divided into three separate states, condemned the manner in which armed opposition forces conduct themselves in the area, accusing them of “doing bad things against innocent civil population”.
He claimed some humanitarian workers were actually abducted by the rebel fighters before abandon later about them in the swampy areas into which the rebels fled after clashing with the government forces.
Sudan Tribune could not independently verify the claims of the two sides because armed activities take place in remote villages where journalists are denied access by the government and armed opposition .
While government officials deny the existence of armed opposition, local residents and humanitarian workers say there are still rebel checkpoints along some main roads. Also, they said that the rebels control many villages the flat, fertile agricultural region creating pockets that function as informal safe zones free of government troops.
Others say that although vast swathes of the area may have fallen out of government control, but they are not necessarily firmly held by the armed opposition.
Humanitarian workers and religious leaders say criminal elements have also taken advantage of absence of the government in the area to function within these pockets. Therefore, armed gangs use these hideouts to kidnap people for ransom or to carjack vehicles.
The armed opposition also tries to police their own ranks, while fighting the government and competing for supplies, supporters and resources with other armed factions.