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South Sudanese rebels occupy strategic areas in Northern Bahr el Ghazal

May 27, 2015 (JUBA) – The opposition forces led by former vice president, Riek Machar, have occupied a number of strategic areas in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, government officials have confirmed.

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South Sudanese rebel fighters hold up their rifles as they walk in front of a bushfire in rebel-controlled territory in Upper Nile state on 13 February 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

State officials and local residents told Sudan Tribune that the opposition fighters occupied areas previously held by government troops in Nyinbuoli and many other key locations in Aweil West and Aweil North counties.

The move by the opposition forces under the overall command of General Dau Aturjong has sparked fears that fighting may spread to the once relatively peaceful Bahr el Ghazal region.

Aweil North county commissioner, Kon Angok Kon, acknowledged in an exclusive interview with Sudan Tribune on Wednesday that the opposition forces had moved into the areas and were occupying strategic locations in northern part of the county near the border with eastern Darfur region in neighbouring Sudan.

Kon is one of the first state officials to admit the presence of the rebels in the area but did not say whether the government troops had attempted to engage them in an active combat operation.

It was not clear how and why the government abandoned such locations only to be occupied by the rebels without a fight, but some cited mass redeployment of troops from Bahr el Ghazal region to the active frontlines in Upper Nile region as the main reason.

A high ranking military source also told Sudan Tribune in a separate interview that the general command at the military headquarters in Juba was aware of the presence and activities of the opposition fighters in the area but had not yet decided how to react to their activities.

“Discussions are underway at the high level of command but as far as I know, there is no decision taken yet on how to handle the activities of the forces of Dau Aturjong. There are discussions at the level of political leadership about it. Some have proposed reaching out to them in form of dialogue,” he said.

The officer, who comes from Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, said his people suffered enough and it would be unwise to continue to fight to perpetuate the suffering and displacement of innocent people.

Another politician said politicians and military officers with the legislators from the area were trying their best to avoid hostilities between the two forces, pointing out innocent civilians would be the victims of armed confrontation in the end.

“You have seen the damage and the level of destruction this war has caused in other states. The people who have paid the price of this war are not the politicians but the ordinary people who have nothing to do with the cause of the war but they have been made to suffer for nothing”, another state official currently visiting Juba from Aweil town, capital of the state, told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.

He confirmed that political leadership had been trying to persuade the religious leaders to initiate dialogue on behalf of the government with General Dau Aturjong and his group, adding that it however appeared the latter had refused.

“We do not want our people to die. The loss of lives we have had, the sacrifices our people have made in this war alone is immeasurable,” he said.

He further lamented that the worst part in the war was that it will continue to be fought at home.

“It will be a war within the people, inside the communities, between family members, so it will be a war between brothers fighting another brother,” he said.

General Aturjong was appointed by the rebel leader as deputy chief general staff and commander of the opposition forces in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state.

He has not however been actively fighting against president Salva Kiir’s government in his home state, owing to alleged advice to him by his home intellectuals not to wage war in the area.