JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN —
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has voiced "deep concern" about the deteriorating security situation in Pibor County in Jonglei state, where rebels led by David Yau Yau are fighting the South Sudan Army (SPLA), and called on the government to take urgent action to stop the "violence, looting and displacement."
"UNMISS has been deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in Pibor town in the last days: there has been violence, there has been looting which has resulted in the displacement of civilians as well as the destruction of humanitarian organizations' premises," UNMISS spokeswoman Ariane Quentier said.
UNMISS has also received reports of widespread looting of civilian dwellings and humanitarian organization premises, including medical facilities, she said.
Many NGOs fled Pibor town after a sharp uptick in violence last week, when Yau Yau's rebels issued a statement ordering civilians to leave the area and the town of Kapoeta, in Eastern Equatoria state, ahead of attacks, she said.
UNMISS plans to stay in Jonglei state to help protect civilians, she said, even though that role falls mainly to the government and the South Sudanese army (SPLA).
“Although we've got a patrol in Pibor, UNMISS wants to make it clear that the protection of civilians is primarily the responsibility of the national authorities,” Quentier said.
SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said the SPLA repulsed two attacks on Pibor town by Yau Yau's rebels.
“Pibor was attacked yesterday by the militia force... and they were repulsed and defeated," he said.
"This morning, they also attacked an outpost of Pibor -- a place called Apurnyang --and they were also repulsed.”
He said he was unable to get information on the number of causalities suffered by each side.
He also insisted the SPLA was doing its job and protecting civilians in Jonglei, where the town of Boma was recently overrun by Yau Yau's rebels.
“We are protecting civilians; that's why the army is in Pibor," he said.
"If those NGOs have listened to the agitations of the Yau Yau group and withdrew because of fear, there is nothing we can do. We cannot prevent them, though they should not listen to those who are trying to cause panic within the civilian population.”
Yau Yau's rebels have been accused of numerous killings since the start of the year, including the slayings of more than 100 civilians and their SPLA escort in a cattle raid in January, and five UN peacekeepers from India and seven local staff members last month.
But UNMISS said in a statement that it was particularly alarmed by reports about the involvement in some of the recent violence in Jonglei of “allegedly defected and ill-disciplined members of security forces.”
The government launched an offensive in Jonglei against Yau Yau's rebels in March this year, vowing to defeat the insurgents by the start of the rainy season, usually in May.