YEI- The fighting in South Sudan has moved closer to the Uganda border after gunfire reportedly rocked Yei, a town just 120 kilometres from the West Nile district of Arua.
The fighting in Yei, which is located south of Juba, the South Sudan capital, and borders Uganda and the DR Congo, reportedly caused panic among the local residents. The fighting, according to a military source, started when supporters of President Salva Kiir allegedly attacked senior military officers from the Nuer tribe to which rebel leader Riek Machar belongs, prompting defections.
The SPLA spokesman, Mr Philip Aguer, admitted that an army unit in the town of Yei, had defected to the rebels on Saturday and left the area with a number of vehicles.
An official of one of the UN agencies in South Sudan yesterday posted on social media: “Yei town is currently in no one’s hands the fighting is going on, 18 civilians killed, rebels are said to be pushing government forces out of town.”
Aguer reported ongoing clashes in the oil-producing Unity and Upper Nile states in the north, saying that government forces were advancing on the two state capitals of Bentiu and Malakal, currently in rebel hands.
Government troops were preparing to retake Bor, the capital of Jonglei State, he added. “The SPLA forces are advancing from the northern part of Bentiu. We will try to do our constitutional duty... sooner or later our target is Bentiu,” Aguer told reporters.
“It’s a matter of time, our forces are advancing towards Bor,” he said, claiming that the rebels “realise they are fighting a useless war” and saying government forces were a mere 15 kilometres from the town. There was no immediate comment from the rebels.
He also reported another defection in Western Equatoria State, an area which has so far largely escaped the now-three-week-old outbreak of fighting. Still, Aguer assured that the government was “in control of most of the parts of the country”, repeating that “the situation is under control”.
“We are confidently telling the public that South Sudan is relatively stable,” he said.
There were reports of fighting in and around Juba, the capital of South Sudan on the night of Saturday and yesterday. The Juba incident, according to a military source quoted by the paper, started when supporters of President Salva Kiir allegedly attacked senior military officers from the Nuer tribe. This report could, however, not be independently verified.
However, the spokesperson of South Sudan’s president Ateny Wek Ateny, told Sudan Tribune that the latest fighting in Juba was between drunken soldiers. No casualty figures were known.
The soldiers who defected in Juba last month were pushed back to Khor William, but launched a counter attack on Juba on Saturday, according to Major General Marial Cindong Yol from the South Sudanese army (SPLA).
Fighting broke out in South Sudan on December 15 after an attempted coup. President Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of being behind the coup. Machar has since launched a rebellion taking over parts of Jonglei and Unity state. The UN estimates that thousands of people have been killed and over 200,000 displaced.