Oil wells seized
Rebels in South Sudan seize oil wells and capture the capital of the main oil-producing region, a spokesman for the group claims.
South Sudanese rebels loyal to former vicepresident Riek Machar said on Friday they have captured the key oil town of Malakal from government forces after three days of fierce fighting, as African leaders held talks to try to avert a civil war.
Meanwhile, the government claimed to be in full control of the town, which is the capital of Upper Nile State in the northeast and one of South Sudan’s main oil-producing areas.
“The whole of Malakal is under the control of our forces. It was cleared yesterday evening,” said Moses Ruai Lat, spokesman for the Unity State Military Interim Government, which comprises the rebels loyal to Machar and opposed to President Salva Kiir.
“All those forces that are loyal to the president have been cleared, and the former governor of Upper Nile, Simon Kun Poch, is on the run,” he told AFP.
But South Sudanese Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk referred to the statement as “disinformation”.
Regional leaders in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development bloc met in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Friday to discuss South Sudan. That summit was expected to produce a road map for peace talks between Kiir and Machar.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn met with Kiir on Thursday in South Sudan’s capital.
“South Sudan is a young nation that should be spared unnecessary distractions in its development agenda. Use wisdom and stop the loss of innocent lives,” Kenyatta said.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom called the talks “very constructive and very candid”. It was not clear whether the delegation also met with rebel leader Machar, who was fired by Kiir in July.
Violence erupted in Juba on Dec 15 and quickly spread, dividing the landlocked country of 10.8 million along ethnic lines between the Nuer — Machar’s people — and the Dinka, to whom Kiir belongs.
The head of the UN mission in Sudan said well over 1,000 people have been killed.
Fighting has now spread, encompassing half of South Sudan’s 10 states.
More than 120,000 people have been displaced by the continuing violence, the United Nations said.
Kiir and Machar say their disagreement is political. But many civilians seeking safety at the UN bases say that ethnic bloodletting has left them paralyzed with fear.
Lina Yohanis, a 22- year- old mother of two, said her sister had been killed by soldiers who targeted her because she was a Nuer. “They poured fuel on her and burned her,” Yohanis said at the sprawling UN compound in Juba.
With tears rolling down her cheeks, she added, “The politics of South Sudan are becoming politics of tribalism.”
Earlier in the week, a UN human rights body said it had found a mass grave in Bentiu, capital of Unity state, containing what were believed to be bodies of Dinka soldiers.
The UN Security Council agreed on Tuesday to nearly double the size of its mission known as UNMISS, allowing for up to 12,500 soldiers and 1,300 police officers, after the violence raged out of control.
The UN said it hoped within the next 48 hours to begin receiving critical reinforcements of military hardware and personnel for its overstretched peacekeeping mission.
Western powers and east African states, eager to prevent more chaos in the fragile region, have not been able to get Kiir to sit down with Machar, whose whereabouts are unknown.
Machar told Reuters on Monday he was “in the bush”.
A South Sudanese woman sits with a child on Wednesday at the main hospital in Bor, which troops loyal to President Salva Kiir reportedly recaptured from rebel forces.