The South Sudanese government has confirmed that rebels had seized the capital of a key oil-producing region in the country over the weekend.
The government said on its Twitter page that it was no longer in control of the Bentiu area where the capital of Unity State is located.
“Bentiu is not currently in our hands, it is in the hands of a commander who has declared support for Riek Machar,” the statement said.
Local reporters say there are speculations of various defections in the army to join Mr. Machar’s side. President Salva Kiir has blamed the fighting on his sacked deputy president, Riek Machar, saying he had wanted to topple the government in a coup d’état.
Mr. Machar initially denied the allegation but his latest interview to Aljazeera on Sunday points to the facts that he is behind the fighting against the government.
Riek Machar told Al Jazeera that he wants to be South Sudan’s next and called for President Kiir to step down immediately.
Mr. Machar also confirmed that his troops (rebels) were now in control of Bentiu, the capital city of Unity state where a government military base is located.
Foreign Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin had already told reporters that government troops had come across Mr. Machar leading a group of rebels in the fighting but he escaped on a speed boat upon seeing government troops.
“Riek managed to escape, he used his boat along the Nile and ended up in his village of Ado and went into Bentiu the administrative capital of Unity, he attacked government institutions there’’, Mr. Benjamin said.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon told a news conference in Manila that the UN has planned to send resources from other peacekeeping missions in the region to South Sudan and called for an end to hostilities between government troops and rebels.
“We are now actively trying to transfer our assets from other peacekeeping missions like MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo and some other areas; we are also seeking support from other key countries who can provide the necessary assets, we therefore called for an end to hostilities by both faction’’, Mr. Ban said on Sunday.
The United Nations Security Council has said that more than 500 people have been killed since fighting broke out between government troops and rebels on December 15.
There are reports by local media that dead bodies could be seen in on the streets in the capital but the government still maintains that it is on top of the situation.
But the UN says it would not abandoned civilians to their fate. More than 20,000 people are said to have taken refuge in the UN compound in Juba.
Various embassies in the capital Juba are said to be evacuating their staff and a US aircraft came under fire on late Sunday.
President Salva Kiir is from the Dinka ethnic group (majority) while Riek Machar on the other hand is from the Nuer ethnic group (minority) and political analyst say the battle is being fought on these ethnic lines. Many including the UN and the US fears it could descend into a civil war.
Both President Kiir and Mr. Machar were part of the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) which fought for independence from Sudan but relation between the two worsen in less than 2 years of independence from Sudan.
An early night time curfew is still in being observed with communications signals unavailable in many parts of the capital.
Food and water is becoming also very difficult for the population with many calling for regional and international support.
Issaka Adams / NationalTurk Africa News
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