BOR, SOUTH SUDAN —
Rebels led by David Yau Yau have seized the town of Boma in Jonglei state after two days of fighting, South Sudan Army (SPLA) officials said Wednesday, confirming reports earlier this week from the insurgents.
Yau Yau's rebels, who call themselves the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA), said in a statement emailed to media outlets and posted online on Monday, that they had "stormed and captured the strategic town of Boma."
"SPLA forces ran away leaving behind more than 50 dead bodies," the statement said.
SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer called the statement "propaganda."
"We don’t have the casualties because of the remoteness... But definitely whatever is being posted by those who are associated with the rebels on the net or websites are for propaganda purposes and are not true,” the SPLA spokesman said.
The number of casualties on both sides has not been independently verified.
Aguer said the army did not anticipate that the town would come under attack and had only stationed a small unit of 100 soldiers, called a coy, in Boma.
"The command of the SPLA did not anticipate a big or a huge security risk for Boma town, and there was only one coy that was deployed in Boma," Aguer said.
"That one coy, after fighting for two days, they decided to move to the top of the mountain. So it was a tactical withdrawal. It is a matter of time and the SPLA will regain control of Boma,” he said.
Last week, the rebels issued a statement warning civilians and NGO workers to leave towns around Pibor and Kapoeta. Boma is near both towns.
Boma is the second area to fall to the rebels this month, after the group took control of Murua airstrip from the SPLA last week. Aguer said the SPLA had tactically withdrawn from the airstrip.
Yau Yau first launched a rebellion against the government in 2010 after failing to win a seat in the state parliament. He accepted an amnesty offer from President Salva Kiir in 2011, but re-started his rebellion in April 2012.
In its statement, the SSDA said it is trying to overthrow the South Sudanese government because it is "run by a mafia bent on enriching themselves and dividing our country."
The rebels also note in their statement the psychological significance of Boma, which was the first town the SPLA captured from the Sudan Armed Forces during the long civil war against Khartoum. They took it in 1985 and held it until the end of war in 2005.