South Sudan: Army Denies Attacking Rebels in Unity State

Juba — The South Sudanese army (SPLA) spokesperson on Monday dismissed rebel claims that its forces instigated the fighting that erupted Sunday near an oil refinery under construction in Unity state.

The incident, Phillip Aguer said, left a foreign worker injured and a car looted at the oil facility.

"No. How do we attack our refinery? The refinery is being constructed by the government of South Sudan. So how can the government attack it own refinery? When you want to lie, at least you must make a lie logical but this is illogical," Aguer said.

"The attack was targeted at refinery which is being managed by foreigners and those foreigners know who attacked them," he added.

Rebel spokesperson, Peter Riek Gew, accused pro-government forces of f launching attacks on their position over the weekend. He further said their forces managed to control the oilfields, a claim South Sudan government army dismissed.

Sudan Tribune could not verify claims from both sides of the conflict due to remoteness of the area, although the United Nations mission confirmed the incident.

"From South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country, otherwise known as UNMISS, reports that fighting broke out in Unity State this morning between Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and Opposition forces in Torabith in Mayom County, which is about 50 km west of Bentiu," Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN Secretary-General said in a statement.

Another clash, he further said, also took place in the vicinity of an oil refinery about 5 km from the Unity oilfields and that UN peacekeepers extracted 10 employees of the Safinat Caspian Oil Refining Company from a location near those oilfields about 25 km North West of Bentiu.

"Five of the 10 employees were wounded and two of them are said to be in critical condition. All are now at the UNMISS compound in Bentiu receiving medical attention," Dujarric added.

ARMY TO PURSUE REBELS

Meanwhile, South Sudan government vowed on Monday to continue pursuing the country's rebels, whom it accuses of violating the cessation of hostilities agreement reached on 23 January.

"The rebels of renegade Riek Machar are still carrying out atrocities. They are attacking government positions and killing innocent civilians. We warned them to stop this immediately. They should stop attacking government positions," information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth warned.

"If they continue to violate the cessation of hostilities agreement, the government has the right to respond in self defence and in that matter our forces in the event they are provoked will respond and pursue these rebels to their last destinations," he added.

The minister reiterated his government's constitutional responsibility to ensure that lives and properties of the population were protected.

He further accused the rebels of carrying out "unprovoked attacks" on pro-government army positions in the oil producing states of Unity and Upper Nile, despite the two sides signing a ceasefire deal.

"They have continued to launch unprovoked attacks on the government positions", said the minister.

Gordon Buay, the spokesperson of the former rebel group, now allied to government, also confirmed that fighting took place on Sunday between the two rival forces.

"The rebel forces of renegade Riek Machar attacked the government's outpost of Tor Abieth at 16:20pm on Sunday, April, 13. The garrison is at the border of Mayom and Abiemnom counties close to the Sudanese border. The gallant SPLA forces repulsed the attack of about 500 rebels and chased them towards the Sudanese border," said Buay in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune.

"The SPLA forces, commanded by Maj. General Mathews Puljang, inflicted a lot of casualties on the rebels. The SPLA forces killed 50 rebels and captured 50 Ak-47 rifles and ammunitions", he added.

The official further assured the population that the rebels would never reach Bentiu, the Unity state capital, claiming government troops had already defeated the latter at the battle in Tor Abieth area.

"We will pursue them [rebels] so that they would return and pose threats to farming communities in the two counties of Mayom and Abiemnom, where members of the insurgency are active," he stressed.

RESPECTING THE CEASEFIRE

Buay urged the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) countries and the African Union to declare Machar an "enemy" of peace in the region, slamming his rejection of the ceasefire.

"We therefore call upon IGAD countries and the African union to declare Riek Machar as an enemy of peace in the region," Buay said.

"His consistent rejection of the cessation of hostilities agreement is a proof that he is not interested in the peaceful settlement of the conflict," he added.

Several rebel officials, on Monday, denied reports that their forces launched unprovoked attack on the government positions, accusing the latter of launching "twin attacks" on their positions.

"The information we have from our forces on the ground is that the government attempted twice yesterday and today to take positions of forces in unity state, which did not work. Our forces fought in self defence in the process they managed to repulse that attack and pushed them away from the areas in which they used as bases of their attacks on the positions of our forces", a senior rebel official told Sudan Tribune Monday from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Rebel spokesperson, Gew, also claimed in an interview on Sunday that opposition forces captured Tor-abieth, Tharwangyiela and Kilo 30, locally known as Kubur Nyabol.

These rebel claims could, however, not be independently verified by Sudan Tribune.

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