Dozen killed as S. Sudan rival forces clash in Unity state

September 18, 2017 (BENTIU) – At least 19 people were killed in recent clashes between South Sudan rebels and government troops in Nhialdiu, an area southwest of the former Unity state capital, Bentiu.

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South Sudan’s army soldiers drive in a truck on the frontline in Panakuach, Unity state April 24, 2012. (Reuters Photo)

The deputy rebel spokesperson, Paul Gabriel Lam said fighting broke out in the wee hours of Monday morning when the rebels penetrated the town and briefly dislodged pro-government forces.

“The fight lasted for only one hour and at about 0600 hrs, the gallant SPLA-IO [armed opposition] forces took full control of Nhialdhiu; defeating the enemy forces and scattering them in disarray leaving behind 19 dead bodies and several others injured, including their area commander Gen. Tito Biel, who had earlier defected to Taban Deng Gai,” said Lam in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune.

“We lost a freedom fighter and four sustained minor injuries,” he added.

During the clashes, rebel forces reportedly captured 36 AK-47s, 6 machine guns, four RPGs [Rocket Propeller Guns], propellers and grenades, claims Sudan Tribune could not independently verify.

However, Dickson Gatluak, a spokesperson of the armed opposition faction in the Juba government confirmed the incident, but said government forces and its allied troops would recapture Nhialdiu.

“This is no longer legitimate to take the lives of those who are not carrying arms. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-Opposition, combined with the army infantry from the 4th division are pursuing the fleeing elements towards the direction of Rupnyagai,” he said.

He accused the rebels of allegedly targeting civilian properties, citing food, cattle, among others items.

According to Gatluak, the armed opposition forces carried out the attack with the aim of disrupting a community-led dialogue, which had attracted participants from Budang, Pawel as well as Nhialdiu.

After gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan descended into war in December 2013, pitting President Salva Kiir’s troops against those of former Vice President Riek Machar. However, a peace agreement was signed in August 2015 and Machar returned to share power with Kiir, before the deal fell apart less than three months later as Machar fled the capital, Juba.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced since the conflict began.