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South Sudan fighting spread to vital oil-producing state

Bonifacio Taban
South Sudanese government lost ground during fighting with rebels in the country’s key oil-producing Unity State, South Sudan SPLA Fourth Division Commander James Koang Chuol said.
22.12.2013  |  Bentiu
SPLA Fourth Division Commander James Koang Chuol, February 25.
SPLA Fourth Division Commander James Koang Chuol, February 25.

Friday’s long night of fighting marks a worrying deterioration in the country’s six-days of clashes, which are estimated to have killed at least 500 people and have sent tens of thousands fleeing their homes.

Wang Chok, Brigadier General of the SPLA operation command in Unity State, said that fighting flared between the former Caretaker Governor and the command of the SPLA Fourth Division.

What happened yesterday was an action coordinated from Juba together with the former Caretaker Governor of Unity State, to kill the whole command of the Fourth Division,” said Chok.

South Sudan SPLA Fourth Division Commander James Koang Chuol said that Unity State was no longer in government control. Chuol accused Caretaker Governor Joseph Nguen Monytuel of attempting to kill him.

In his address to media on Saturday, Chuol said Bentiu, the capital of Unity State, was rocked by hours of heavy fighting. It is the latest region to flare up in conflicts which many observers fear will tilt the two-year old nation into civil war.

There were clashes in Bentiu in which the group of tanks unit decided not to cooperate with the division commander. They started bombarding the division […], because they received the order from the high ranking in Juba,” said Chuol.

All of us know, we have been targeted, I myself I was targeted and the leadership of the South Sudan ordered the major, the commanding officer of the tanks unit to kill me,” he said.

The escalating violence started in the capital Juba on Sunday night, in what the President described as a thwarted coup attempt.

His political rival and South Sudan’s former Vice President Riek Machar Teny, however, denies initiating any coup.

It triggered a wave of violence that has flared across the country, often divided along ethnic lines between the Dinka and Nuer tribes, sparking fears of a return to the decades of civil war, which ended in 2005.

Intense fighting has left Jonglei State’s capital Bor under rebel control.
While speaking on Bentiu FM on Saturday, Chuol called on all army under his control to respect tribal diversity. He urged them to not to seek revenge.

He urged the former Caretaker Governor to report to him, warning of further violence if he failed to do so. Chuol said the fighting between the army destroyed hundreds of lives in Unity State.

SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer confirmed that Unity State is currently divided, with the SPLA and the loyalists to the government on one side and those who are supporting Riek Machar on the other”.

We are not in control of Bentiu and we don’t know how many people are wounded and how many people are killed,” Aguer said.

Unity State is one of the key oil-producing states in South Sudan. Oil production accounts for more than 95 percent of the country’s economy.

Oil companies also fly out their employees after the death of at least 16 South Sudanese oil workers Wednesday and Thursday.