April 16, 2014 (KAMPALA) – South Sudanese rebels claimed they have killed 510 soldiers including a top general while fighting the South Sudan army (SPLA) over the control of the strategic state capital of Unity state, Bentiu, for the last three days.
Lt. Col. Peter Riek Gew, a militarily spokesperson for Unity state told Sudan Tribune over a phone interview on Tuesday that between Sunday, Monday and Tuesday their forces inflicted heavy casualties on the government’s troops as they were taking full control of Bentiu and other oil fields located north of the state capital.
“We have destroyed 7 war tanks from the enemies. We killed brigadier general Boutros Lominy,” Gew said, while referring to the earlier casualties inflicted on the government in the outskirts of the town on Monday.
The rebel spokesperson also claimed that on Tuesday they also destroyed 3 other tanks and captured 4 others in good condition while battling with the SPLA over the control of state capital Bentiu in the morning hours on Tuesday.
Gew also confirmed they captured a number of government officials SPLA including Maj. Gen. Carlos Kuol, a former rebel from the SSLA that joined the government under the command of Lt. Gen. Puljang and have been fighting alongside the government troops since the conflict erupted in mid-December 2013.
SPLA WITHDRAWING FROM LEER COUNTY
Sudan Tribune has learned that the SPLA forces from Leer County, home of former vice-president, turned rebel leader, Riek Machar, have withdrawn from the area after hearing the recapture of Rubkotna on Monday by the rebel forces.
It is however yet to be confirmed whether the government forces who allegedly disappeared from Leer were coming to Bentiu for reinforcement, or fleeing the area westwards to Bahre el Ghazal region.
The control over the state capital by the rebels’ forces on Tuesday was received with joy, dancing and singing in groups of thousands of the IDPs who were seeking shelter in the UNMISS base in Bentiu for fear of government’s troops.
“Our being here in the camp has been horrible; we are restricted from our freedom in our ancestral land. The control over Bentiu town and other counties will hopefully make us to go and stay in our own houses,” an anonymous IDP told Sudan Tribune over a phone interview on Tuesday.
PURSUIT OF SENIOR ARMY OFFICERS
The Unity state’s military spokesperson, Gew, further added that they were however still in hot pursuit of many government army’s generals who were being chased in two different directions.
“I cannot now tell the fate of those Salva Kiir’s generals which are forces are still pursuing in the bushes. We are yet to receive reports about them, whether or not they have successfully escaped as I am lately told some of them have fallen into further ambushes on the way,” said Gew.
He suspected that Lt. Gen. Jok Riak, who is the government’s overall sector commander for the whole of Greater Bahre el Ghazal region and Unity state could be among the army generals in disarray and being hunted down in the bushes.
He however confirmed that some of them narrowly escaped southwards and were successfully evacuated with helicopters to Juba including the deputy governor of the state, Stephen Mabek Lang, a Dinka from Pariang County in the state.
The government previously amassed troops in Unity state as it brought thousands more from the army divisions 3 and 5 from Greater Bahr el Ghazal region, and vowed to maintain control over the strategic Bentiu town.
The recent victory over the government forces allows the rebels to control the Unity oilfields.
The rebels say they expect to control the whole of Upper Nile region during the coming rainy season including all its oilfields and take the fight to Juba, the national capital, or to Greater Bahr el Ghazal region, which is home to president Salva Kiir.