Juba — Northern Sudanese employees working at the oilfields of South Sudan's Unity state have begun evacuating as fighting between the South Sudan army (SPLA) as rebel forces under the command of the renegade Peter Gatdet Yak, have intensified for the last four days in the state.
The rebel forces of Gatdet, known as the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), launched a series of heavy attacks this week since April 19, against the SPLA forces of Division Four in Mayom County in the state, resulting to the South Sudan army losing at least one town to the rebel group.
The minister of information in Unity state, Gideon Gatpan Thoar, told Sudan Tribune on Friday from the state capital, Bentiu, that the northern oil company employees were evacuated to Higlig area near the North-South border where the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) have deployed. He said the workers could return to their stations any time, explaining that the decision was based on ensuring their safety in response to anger expressed by the state citizens against northerners whom they accuse of supporting renegade Peter Gatdet.
On Thursday in Khartoum, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Petroleum, Omer Mohamed Khair, confirmed the evacuation saying the 150 oil workers from north Sudan are to resume their work in the Unity state within 24 hours after the end of fighting.
Chinese diplomats in Juba have expressed concern to the Southern Sudanese authorities about the insecurity caused by the fighting and its implications in the oilfields operated by the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC). The Chinese Consul General in Juba this week said more than 200 northern Sudanese drillers and other staff have been asked to evacuate the area for safety reasons by the Unity state government.
Bol Gatkuoth, former member of the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly and the current spokesperson of Gatdets's rebel group, claimed that the SSLA captured Guong on 19 April, and captured Mankien on 21 April, after two separate clashes with the SPLA forces in the state. Officials of Unity state, including the commissioner of Mayom county, reportedly confirmed the capture of the two towns by the rebel group.
However, SPLA spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer, denied the claim that the second town, Mankien, fell to the rebels. No casualties were reported by both sides.
The rebels claim to seek control of strategic locations in the state to establish a base in the renegade General's home county, Mayom, from which to command his rebellion against Juba. South Sudan officials suspect that the militia group wants to create a corridor of supply route of weapons and ammunitions from Khartoum to their base in Mayom from which to expand their targets into other areas in the region.
The rebel force of Peter Gatdet is one among the seven other different rebel groups fighting against the government. They are based in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Unity and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states. They claim to be fighting for democracy and justice and against tribalism and corruption.
Most groups began their rebellion due to grievances caused by elections last year but others who were not part of the SPLA in the past like the SSLA accused the South Sudan government of corruption and tribalism.
The South Sudan government rejects the accusations and claim that Gatdet is being backed by Khartoum.
The United Nations Security Council briefing on Thursday on the situation in Sudan raised concern about the increasing violence in South Sudan ahead of formal independence on July 9. In January the South voted to secede in a plebiscite agreed as part of a 2005 peace deal that ended over two decades of conflict.
The 15-member UN body was briefed by the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Atul Khare, who told the Council that a number of internal grievances which might have contributed to the rebellion needed to be addressed in South Sudan.
The UN official's presentation further highlighted the need to address "ethnic tensions, mismanagement, political and social marginalization, economic development and governance, especially in rule of law institutions ".