Rebels hold key oil capital in South Sudan

Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state, is now controlled by a military commander loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar.



By (AP)

Published: Tue 24 Dec 2013, 1:53 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 3:23 PM

South Sudan’s central government lost control of the capital of a key oil-producing state on Sunday, the military said, as renegade forces loyal to a former deputy president seized more territory in fighting that has raised fears of a full-blown civil war in the world’s newest country.

Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state, is now controlled by a military commander loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar, said Col. Philip Aguer, the South Sudanese military spokesman.

“Bentiu is in the hands of a commander who has declared support for Machar,” he said. “Bentiu is not in our hands.”

The armed rebels were said to be in control days earlier of some of South Sudan’s oil fields, which have historically been a target for rebel movements, endangering the country’s economic lifeblood.

Although the country’s capital, Juba, is mostly peaceful a week after a dispute among members of the presidential guard triggered violent clashes between military factions, fighting continues as the central government tries to assert authority in the states of Unity and Jonglei. Bor, the capital of Jonglei, is said to be the scene of some of the fiercest clashes between government troops and rebels.

The UN Mission in South Sudan said in a statement on Sunday that all non-critical staff in Juba are being evacuated to Uganda. The mission said the move was “a precautionary measure to reduce pressures on its limited resources” as the mission continues to provide assistance and shelter to over 20,000 civilians gathered inside its compounds in Juba, the mission said in a statement on Sunday.

Hilde Johnson, the UN secretary-general’s envoy in South Sudan, said the evacuation does not mean the UN is “abandoning” South Sudan.

“We are here to stay, and will carry on in our collective resolve to work with and for the people of South Sudan,” she said. “To anyone who wants to threaten us, attack us or put obstacles in our way, our message remains loud and clear: we will not be intimidated.”

The United States and other countries have been evacuating their citizens from South Sudan, as violence escalates in the world’s newest country and threatens lives and oil production. Hundreds have been killed in the fighting and world leaders are concerned about full-blown civil war in a country with a history of ethnic violence and divided military loyalties.

On Saturday gunfire hit three US military aircraft trying to evacuate American citizens in Bor, wounding four US service members in the same region gunfire downed a UN helicopter on Friday.

Earlier this week the top military general in Bor defected with his troops, starting a rebellion that appears to be spreading to other parts of the country.

Aguer said Bor is still under the control of pro-Machar forces, disputing reports the rebels had fled as government troops advanced on Bor.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, earlier this week said an attempted coup had triggered the violence, and the blame was placed on Machar, an ethnic Nuer. But officials have since said a fight between Dinka and Nuer members of the presidential guard triggered the fighting that later spread across the East African country.

Machar’s ouster from the country’s No. 2 political position earlier this year had stoked ethnic tensions. Machar, who has criticised Kiir as a dictator, later said he would contest presidential elections in 2015.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday urged South Sudan’s leaders “to do everything in their power” to stop the violence.

Foreign ministers from neighbouring countries Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti are in South Sudan to try and diffuse the crisis.

South Sudan became independent in 2011 after decades of a brutal war with Sudan.


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