Addis Ababa — South Sudanese rebels loyal to the former vice president, Riek Machar, said their forces were on a rescue mission to Bor town, the capital of Jonglei state which was the scene of the recent massacre of women and children from the Nuer ethnic group at a United Nations base.
The rebels' military spokesperson, Brig Gen Lul Ruach Koang, revealed that the opposition forces under the command of Gen Simon Gatwech Dual were moving with high speed towards Bor town, and have already overrun and captured many towns, including the administrative headquarters of Duk county, north of Bor.
"SPLA/SPLM forces under overall command of Maj. Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual this morning [Tuesday] liberated Mareng, administrative headquarters of Duk county, along with several government military outposts of Pajut, Duk Deng, Patuo-Noy and Poktap," said Koang in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune on Tuesday.
He said the government forces were retreating towards Twic East county as the combined "regular forces and volunteer fighters" were conducting the joint operations.
"The combined forces are moving with lightening speed in order to go and rescue survivors of Bor Massacre of last week," he asserted.
Over 20 government soldiers were injured and unknown numbers killed in the Patuenoi area of Duk, the county commissioner, Elijah Monchnom Wuor, said Monday.
"The fighting broke out at between 5am and 6am when rebels attacked the South Sudanese army's positions in Duk Payuel, Patuenoi and Mareng," Wuor said.
"Our soldiers defeated the rebels in the first, second and third rounds, before they withdrew at Patuenoi. The same happened in Mareng, which is the headquarters of Duk County. We were expecting to see the commanders who were commanding these forces, but they had not reached us here in Panyagoor," he added.
The clash took place around 200 kilometers from Bor, the Jonglei capital.
Rebel forces also say they receive reports that government troops were being airlifted from Paloich oilfields to Warrap state to defend the area in anticipation of imminent attack.
The rebels further claimed that they repulsed an attack by the government forces at Dome area as they attempted to penetrate through Ulang county, east of the state capital, Malakal, in Upper Nile state.
REBELS DOWNPLAY UPDF THREAT TO DEFEND BOR
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Ugandan People's Defence Forces (UPDF), Col. Paddy Ankunda, on Tuesday reportedly warned the rebels not to attack Bor, saying the Ugandan troops were "well prepared" and ready to defend the town.
The rebels however downplayed the warning, saying their fighters were ready to face the "foreign aggressors," accusing the government of organising the attack in the name of youth.
Machar's spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, said Juba provoked the opposition with the "barbaric massacre of civilians in Bor" leaving the rebels with no other option but to "defend themselves and save the civilians who are at risk of further genocide."
"This rescue mission to Bor town is necessitated by the recent barbaric massacre of hundreds of innocent women and children from the Nuer ethnic group. This brutal killing was carried out by members of the army and police in disguise," he told Sudan Tribune Tuesday.
If such innocent civilians could be "helplessly butchered in the watchful eyes of the United Nations in a state capital," he added, "it means the regime in Juba was doing even worse in remote areas."
He lamented that the Bor incident had brought back painful memories about a similar incident in Juba in which he said soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir allegedly massacred thousands of civilians from the Nuer ethnic group in the nation's capital when violence erupted in mid-December last year.
The rebels captured Bor twice in the past before they were dislodged by a joint force of government troops and the UPDF. Bor is about 200km north of the capital, Juba.
Fighting is intensifying as government and rebels engage forces in multiple fronts despite the cessation of hostilities agreement.
South Sudan army spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday that heavy fighting occurred in the eastern state of Jonglei, but said rebels were repulsed by government forces.
"Scores of rebel fighters were killed", Phillip Aguer told Sudan Tribune by phone.