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South Sudan Fighting Picks Up as 'Month of Tranquility' Ends

  • Lucy Poni

Rebel fighters hold up their rifles as they walk in front of a bushfire in a rebel controlled territory in Upper Nile State, South Sudan, Feb. 13, 2014.

Rebel fighters hold up their rifles as they walk in front of a bushfire in a rebel controlled territory in Upper Nile State, South Sudan, Feb. 13, 2014.

Days after the end of a "month of tranquility" in South Sudan, army officials say there has been fighting in Upper Nile and Unity states, two of the hotspots in the nearly six-month-old conflict in the young country.

Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) spokesman, Colonel Philip Aguer, told South Sudan in Focus that fighting has been going on since the weekend in Upper Nile, and blamed the opposition for the new unrest.

“The rebels of Riek Machar violated the ceasefire in Nassir," a small town in Upper Nile state on the northern bank of the Sobat River, Aguer said.

"They have been shelling Nassir on the 31st, on the 1st and on the 2nd. They also shelled Gelaciel in Barliet County, Upper Nile, using artilleries and this has led to the wounding of many soldiers and the death of one soldier in Nassir,” he said.

Opposition military spokesperson Lul Ruai Koang confirmed the fresh fighting, but blamed government forces for starting it.

"They are the ones who have been shelling our positions. You know they have been attempting to go beyond Nassir to surrounding villages. And whenever they want to make that, they would do the shelling first to give the forces that are trying to get out of Nassir cover, so they did the same today," Koang said.

Aguer and Koang also said there has been righting in Unity state. Unity and Upper Nile produce South Sudan's oil, the backbone of the country's economy.

The fresh fighting began as a month-long truce, aimed at allowing aid agencies to get food and relief supplies to the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled their homes since fighting started nearly six months ago, and to allow farmers to plant crops and cattle herders to tend to their livestock, drew to an end.

United Nations humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said the so-called "month of tranquility" resulted in the most peaceful month so far this year in South Sudan.
Aguer said a team of monitors from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) visited Nassir Tuesday on a fact-finding mission. IGAD is supposed to be providing several teams of ceasefire monitors, but officials say they have not all been deployed because they are waiting for the arrival of regional troops to protect them.

Both sides have acknowledged that fighting has continued almost unabated since President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Machar signed a ceasefire agreement last month.
Philip Aleu contributed to this report from Juba.

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