Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) fighters aligned with the South Sudanese government have captured Raja following the withdrawal of an armed group who overran the city yesterday morning, permitting the re-entry of the governor of the proposed Lol State, who had fled during the fighting.
The group that attacked Raja has not identified itself and could not be contacted, but several sources said they thought the group attacked the town in defiance of the creation of the Lol State government, one of 28 new state governments created by presidential decree in place of the ten constitutional states.
Governor Rizik Zacharia and dozens of other government officials fled Raja yesterday as the opposition gunmen routed soldiers defending the town in a surprise dawn attack. Rizik’s top guard commander and nine other bodyguards were killed in the attack.
There has been widespread looting in the town and displacement of many citizens. Government forces only regained control of the town after the intervention of JEM, a heavily armed rebel group from Darfur that has historically had a base near Raja.
Some sources contradicted each other as to when the government regained control of the town.
According one resident, the rebel group withdrew yesterday afternoon, but this was contradicted by a state official. Francis Piol Bol, Lol State Minister of Information, who fled toward Nyamlel after the attack, said in an interview at 8:00 this morning that the unknown rebel group was still in control of Raja.
The citizen speaking by phone to Radio Tamazuj from his home in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Raja said that the rebel group withdrew at about 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon yesterday, “and after they left the army came back.”
“They came into the city and broke shops and houses, taking things of the people, and this is what caused fear among the people. If you have something at home they will take it from you,” he said.
However, a military source who was in the area, said that it was actually JEM who took control of Raja yesterday evening. It is not clear whether they clashed seriously with the rebel group in order to take the town, but an aid group with staff in the town confirmed that there was fighting in Raja until Wednesday night.
The governor himself claims to have entered the town last night. “I am ok. There is no problem. I am now in town,” the governor said over the phone on Thursday.
Governor Rizik said the security situation was now calm and under control. He did not provide additional information about the circumstances leading to the attack and why the SPLA forces in the area were unable to hold the town yesterday but instead fled.
He confirmed that head of his guard force Capt. Deng Akuei Diing has died with nine others. Several others were also been wounded in the attack.
Looting in the town was reportedly extensive. An aid group working in Raja town, HealthNet TPO, reported today that rebels had looted their equipment and vehicles.
“At least two vehicles and our motorcycles are confirmed to have been taken and fuel and other assets of the compound including satellite phones are stolen,” reported the aid group, noting also that the county health department drugstore and office are reported to have been broken into as well.
Meanwhile, Sumeiya Adut, the deputy governor of Lol State, who was unaccounted for yesterday after other government officials left her behind in the town and lost contact with her, is said to be alive and is traveling out of Raja County toward her home area of Northern Bahr al Ghazal, sources said.
Soldiers wounded in the morning attack yesterday have been evacuated to Aweil. One of them said in an interview that the reason for the attack was local resistance to the Establishment Order issued by President Salva Kiir to unite Raja County with Aweil West and North counties.
“Those forces are rebels from different tribes… The reason they attacked Raja is because they reject their area to be annexed to Lol State. They said they want their own state which is Raja. This is what we heard from some elderly people in the area,” said the wounded soldier.