London — Forces of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to the former South Sudan's vice president Riek Machar announced that they have taken control of the strategic oil rich region of Unity state, six days after fighting erupted in the capital, Juba.
Machar on Saturday told the BBC that his troops were now in control of "much of the country" including Bor, a strategic town, which is also the capital city of the largest state in the region, Jonglei.
The SPLA spokesperson, Col. Philip Aguer, on Saturday confirmed the fall of Unity state following a declaration by the SPLA Division 4 overall commander, Maj. Gen. Koang Chuol, that the region had fallen under the control of Machar, while in the state capital, Bentiu.
Regional leaders have been trying to initiate dialogue between Machar and South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir Mayardit. Machar however said Kiir had to step down first before a meaningful dialogue is launched to restore peace in the country. He also demanded the release of his colleagues arrested in the wake of the clashes last week.
Fighting reportedly started when misunderstanding ensued between members of the presidential guards inside a barrack in Juba.
Peter Adwok Nyaba, the former national minister of higher education, said the violence erupted when bodyguards loyal to Salva Kiir, predominantly of Dinka tried to disarm their Nuer colleagues in implementing the orders by the president Kiir.
Kiir however said the violence was a coup attempt by his political opponents.
With the violence also spreading to the other states, there are fears that the situation will further escalate despite government's assurances that the situation is under control.
Thousands of civilians, mostly from the Dinka ethnic group, are fleeing the capital Juba every day, crossing into Uganda, as rumors suggest that forces loyal to Riek Machar may attack the capital any time soon to take it from Kiir's forces.
Reports say Juba airport is also congested with thousands of people wanting to get into planes and leave.
MACHAR CONDEMNS AIR RAID BY UGANDAN AIRFORCE
The ex-vice president on Saturday also told the BBC that Ugandan military air force had carried out bombing around Bor town on Saturday, backing Kiir's forces, to retake Bor.
There were unconfirmed reports that one fighter jet was shot down. Also an American aircraft was hit while trying to evacuate their nationals from Bor, injuring four of its crew member, as reported by the BBC.
The Ugandan government has however denied having bombed Bor, although they confirmed the presence of their troops inside South Sudan "to rescue their nationals."
Thousands of civilians, predominantly from the Dinka ethnic group have sought refuge in the UNMISS compound in Bor, and across the country.
Machar's forces are also said to be in control of Mangala military base, which is about 30 kilometers from Juba, in Central Equatoria state, planning attack on the capital.
The US administration has warned that the international community will not condone or recognize any attempt by rebels to take over Juba.
"The United States and other partners are committed to the realization of South Sudan's full political, social, and economic potential, but make no mistake: these cooperative efforts will be undermined if political disputes drag the country back into senseless conflict and strife. Moreover, any armed attack on the capital will be seen as an attempt to achieve an unlawful usurpation of power, which would be universally condemned. Those who seek to take or hold power by violence or division of South Sudanese along ethnic lines will not have our support. Violence today will not pave the way for a more stable or prosperous tomorrow" US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement yesterday.