August 8, 2017 (JUBA) – A senior rebel commander allied to South Sudan’s armed opposition leader and former First-Vice President Riek Machar has urged civilians living within military barracks to relocate.
Lt. Gen. James Koang Chuol, in Unity state 25 February, 2013 (ST)
Lt. Gen James Koang Chuol, the rebels’ deputy chief of staff for administration and finance, warned civilians, mainly women and children residing inside or within military barracks to vacate the area.
“This is to inform all civilians who are living with the soldiers from their barracks to desist from it, in order to avoid from being caught up in the fighting,” he told Sudan Tribune in a phone interview Monday.
The warning follows renewed fighting between the country’s rival forces in South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity state, north of the country.
According to the senior rebel, official, recent clashes between their forces and the army at Tor-Abieth in the oil fields north of Unity state left several civilians wounded and a number of them were captured.
The majorities of those captured, he said, were women and children living in barracks at Tor-Abieth, located west of Unity state oil fields.
The armed opposition fighters claimed government forces have been using civilians as human shields in their military barracks.
“I am urging the people of Unity state, especially women and children who have been staying with soldiers in their barracks to immediately stop living with them,” he stressed.
Meanwhile Koang confirmed the fall of Pagak, a town located on South Sudan’s border with Ethiopia to government forces on Sunday.
“It is not the end of our rebellion if Pagak town is taken by the government today. Our struggles still continue and being defeated today is not the end of everything, it is part of the war” he said.
Paul Lam, the deputy spokesman of the armed opposition fighters said their forces in Pagak were forced to withdraw from the town after government forces launched a ground attack supported by air cover using heavy weapons, despite the presence of civilians.
“Because of the artillery and bombardments, our forces decided to pull out from Pagak to avoid civilians being caught up in the cross fire. Now the government is controlling Pagak. It was an unprovoked attack, which is a clear violation of the ceasefire they claimed to have declared in May,” said Lam in a statement issued on Monday.
“Now you wonder why the same party which claimed to have issued unilateral ceasefire launched attacks,” he added.
Santo Domic, deputy spokesman of the government forces confirmed the presence of government forces in Pagak, the main rebel-controlled town, located at the South Sudan-Ethiopia border.
He claimed the South Sudanese forces responded to an attack carried out on the government held positions in the area by armed opposition SPLA-IO of the former Vice President Riek Machar, resulting in the defeat and subsequent takeover of their headquarters during hot pursuit operations on Sunday.
“When fighting breaks out and one retreats, the other ensures the retreating party is pursued to a point that it would not have the capability to make another comeback," he said.
The South Sudanese civil war is a conflict in South Sudan between forces of the government and opposition forces. In December 2013, President Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup d’état. Since then, tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced in the country’s worst-ever violence after it seceded from Sudan.