South Sudan rebels in ‘multiple attacks’

Member of the "white army" which make up some of the rebel forces loyal to Riek Machar in South Sudan - Upper Nile State, 14 April 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption There has been recent fighting in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states

Rebels in South Sudan are involved in fierce fighting with the army in several areas of the country, the military spokesman has told the BBC.

There is ongoing fighting in the north-east of Upper Nile State and the east of Jonglei State, Philip Aguer said.

Earlier, the rebels denied a UN report that they killed hundreds of civilians after taking control last week of the oil hub, Bentiu, in Unity State.

A ceasefire deal in January has failed to halt the violence.

More than a million people have been forced from their homes since fighting broke out in December 2013.

The conflict pits President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, against his former Vice-President, Riek Machar, from the Nuer community.

'Temporary loss'

Mr Aguer said that the army had also been forced to withdraw from Mayom in Unity State in order to reorganise its forces following the loss of Bentiu.

"The victory that's been achieved by the rebels is temporary, it's just a matter of time [before] they will be out of Bentiu," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

But he said there were several other fronts on which the rebels were active.

For the last week, the town of Renk in the north-east of Upper Nile State had come under attack from Mr Machar's forces.

"That should be condemned internationally; there is no war where you bombard residential areas indiscriminately at night… [it has] caused havoc and fear."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption More than one million have fled their homes in the four months since the conflict began
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some have left to neighbouring countries many others have sought shelter at UN camps

"I have never seen a movement that have a desire in killing many people as possible as Riek Machar's force."

On Tuesday morning, there had also been "heavy fighting" in several places in Duk county in Jonglei which came under rebel attack, the army spokesman said.

But he said the army had repulsed them and was pursing the rebels.

'Tribal war'

Correspondents say last week's killings in Bentiu are among the most shocking since the conflict began.

The UN said that civilians were killed along ethnic lines at a mosque, a church and a hospital.

Both Mr Kiir and Mr Machar have prominent supporters from various communities, but there have been numerous reports of rebels killing Dinkas and the army targeting Nuers.

Rebel commander Brig Lul Ruai Koang told the BBC on Tuesday that the rebel soldiers had not killed any civilians in Bentiu.

He suggested that government forces and their allies could have been responsible in order to make the conflict appear as though it was "tribal war".

Bentiu, capital of the oil-rich Unity State, has changed hands several times during the conflict.

Control of the oilfields is crucial because South Sudan gets about 90% of its revenue from oil.

A ceasefire was signed in January but there has been a recent upsurge in fighting.

Last week, the UN said an attack on one of its bases in the central town of Bor in which at least 58 people were killed could constitute a war crime.

Fighting broke out last year after Mr Kiir accused Mr Machar of plotting to stage a coup.

Mr Machar, who was sacked as vice-president earlier in 2013, denied the charges but launched a rebellion.

The UN has about 8,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan, which became the world newest state after seceding from Sudan in 2011.

Image caption Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
Image caption Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Image caption Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
Image caption The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Image caption After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Image caption Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however, this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Image caption Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight. This compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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