11 January 2014

Sudanese Rebels Loot Oil Installations in Unity State - Reports

Bentiu — Oil workers based in South Sudan's Unity state have confirmed the looting of oil installation facilities, including computers, alleging rebels from Sudan's Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) fighting alongside government troops in the area were responsible.

In a telephone interview with Sudan Tribune on Saturday, one of the oil workers said rebels stormed the offices of oil facilities, taking important items, including food supplies meant for those guarding equipment at the sites.

"When the fighting broke out on Friday, we saw many Sudanese rebels carrying heavy ammunitions to attack the areas. They manage to take control of Bentiu town from rebels with [a] few soldiers from [the] government side", said a source that spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

After falling to South Sudanese rebels aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar, government troops on Friday regained control of Unity state capital, Bentiu.

JEM have denied playing an role in the recapture of the town, describing the claims as "totally unfounded".

The spokesperson for the Darfur rebel group, Girbril Bilal, maintains all its troops remain in South and West Kordofan states, where they are currently engaged in fighting the Sudanese army.

"The Justice and Equality Movement stands at an equal distance from the warring parties in the South Sudan", said Bilal.

However, residents in oil-rich Bentiu maintained on Saturday that JEM fighters, along with government troops were present in the town, but had since moved to areas north of the state's oil fields.

Bangoang Khan, a Bentiu resident said he had gone in to town on Saturday morning to assess the damage by Sudanese rebels, saying Ivory Bank and the Kenyan Commercial Bank (KCB) were all plundered.

Khan, who is critical of the South Sudanese government over JEM's alleged involvement on the crisis, accused Sudanese rebels of coming in to the area allegedly with the sole intention of causing damage.

Meanwhile, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a statement on Friday confirming their facilities were looted after rebels withdrew from Bentiu.

MSF, which is one of the few humanitarian organisations still operating in Unity state, was on Wednesday forced to relocate to Leer town due to the deteriorating security situation in the capital.

Thousands of people who have been affected by insecurity in Bentiu have fled to surrounding bushland, while others sought refuge at the UN base in Rubkotna county.

Rebel spokesperson Peter Riek Gew told Sudan Tribune said JEM troops had retaken the town with government troops from Parieng county under the command of the former deputy governor, Mabeak Lang De Mading.

He also confirmed the looting of KCB and Ivory Bank by JEM and government troops on Friday while retaking town from them.

Gew said rebels had withdrawn from the town peacefully without engaging in serious fighting due to fears over the safety of civilians.

Calls by Sudan Tribune to SPLA spokesperson Philip Aguer seeking more details on allegations of Sudanese rebel involvement have so far gone unanswered.

Late last month, JEM issued a statement denying any involvement in South Sudan's recent conflict after dissident Unity state commander Maj. Gen. James Koang Chuol claimed that Sudanese rebels were present in Parieng county.

Unity was the second state to fall to anti-government forces, with Jonglei state capital Bor also falling under rebel control after violence erupted in the capital, Juba, before spreading to other regions.

Forces led by Koang seized Unity capital Bentiu and other parts of the northern region on 21 December, with oil production subsequently shut down after the security situation deteriorated.

The UN estimates some 200,000 people have been displaced since fighting broke out in Juba on 15 December following a dispute between members of the Nuer and Dinka tribes in the presidential guard.

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