BOR, SOUTH SUDAN —
South Sudan army officials said Friday they killed 143 members of David Yau Yau's rebel group and took control of an airstrip in a remote part of Jonglei, which was being used to supply weapons to the insurgents.
Twenty soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) also died and 70 were wounded in the fighting on Tuesday to wrest control from the rebels of the airstrip in Okello, in Pibor County.
The battle was part of the SPLA’s intensified effort to end Yau Yau’s rebellion. Officials have vowed to stop the armed movement by the end of the dry season, which usually comes in May.
SPLA spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer said the airstrip has been the main port of supply for the rebel group for nearly a year.
“This airstrip has been used by Khartoum intelligence to transport and supply arms and ammunition to David Yau Yau. Some of the arms that were being dropped by Antonovs were captured, especially AK-47s," he said.
"With the capturing of this airstrip, it will be difficult for any foreign force to supply arms and ammunition," Aguer added.
Sudan has denied supporting the rebels.
Aguer said Yau Yau’s group currently controls 90 percent of Pibor County and is responsible for several deadly raids in Jonglei state over the last year.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the fighting has sparked an increase of people fleeing to Kenya. They have registered 360 refugees since the beginning of the year, compared to 45 a year over the last few years.
Aguer said the SPLA’s victory Tuesday should be a turning point in the fight against Yau Yau.
“The SPLA will continue to deal with them. It is just a matter of time and the SPLA will clear Pibor of this militia group,” he said.
This is the second rebellion Yau Yau has led. The first came in 2010 after he failed to win a seat in the general elections in Sudan.
He later accepted an offer of amnesty from South Sudan President Salva Kiir, but relaunched his rebellion in April last year.
In January the rebels pledged to respond to a peace appeal by the government. Instead, they stepped up their attacks.
A rebel spokesman refused to comment when contacted by VOA.