Juba — Clashes between South Sudanese rival forces in Northern Bahr el Ghazal left over 60 people dead, several legislators and state officials told Sudan Tribune Thursday
Garang Kuach Ariath, the Aweil West county commissioner said his territory witnessed heavy clashes on Thursday when army defectors attempting to escape to the border with neighbouring Sudan clashed with pro-government soldiers.
"The situation at the moment is relatively quiet. Generally, there was no problem until when the defectors came from western Bahr el Ghazal and wanted to use the area as exit route to the Sudanese border. They started harassing and killing people as they try to find way out. They attacked and loot civilian properties. They killed", Ariath said by phone.
Some government soldiers disguised as home guards, he said, were also killed.
"Four of our gallant forces were wounded and were taken to Aweil Civil Hospital. Our people should be scarred. The wounds are not those big wounds. They are just bruises, very small injuries. From their side more than 29 bodies were found, including one Brigadier General and one colonel. The rest are men", remarked the Aweil West commissioner.
He said Brig. Gen. Gatluak and Col. James Jok Mal Machar were the two defected military officers leading the force towards Sudan border as pro-government soldiers pursue them.
"The security information we had indicated that there were three Brigadier Generals when they left Western Bahr el Ghazal, but now they have remained with only two because one was killed in action and our forces are still following them up to the end of their destination, said Ariath".
He dismissed as false reports alleging there was displacement and panic among the civilian population in the areas of Nyinbuoli and Akuang-ayat, where the fight broke out.
"There is no problem out there now. The situation has returned to normal. People have resumed their normal life since yesterday. There is no fighting any longer going in the area", explained the commissioner.
Military sources and legislators, however, told Sudan Tribune in separate interviews that several government soldiers were killed as they attempted to block passage of the defectors.
"More 60 comrades have lost their lives because in our battalion alone, we have sent 120 people and what remained is now less than 40 people. Some were killed and others wounded. This demoralised the fighting forces because they were sent with only light weapons. They went with Kalashnikov rifle machine guns, forgetting that these defectors were carrying heavy machine guns with them. That was why many were killed", a military officer said.
Local officials have claimed massive defections in the area, with top government officials and legislators suspected to have switched their allegiance to the rebels led by Riek Machar.
Neither the spokesperson for South Sudan army (SPLA) nor his rebel counterpart reacted on the incident.