BOR, SOUTH SUDAN — The South Sudanese army (SPLA) has recaptured the town of Boma in Jonglei state after a brief battle with rebels led by David Yau Yau, SPLA officials said Monday.
“The SPLA yesterday restored law and order to Boma and chased away the militia from Boma town," army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said.
Four SPLA soldiers died in the fighting and 12 were wounded, Aguer said, adding that "20 bodies from the militia side were counted" after the 30-minute battle for Boma, the psychologically important town the was the first captured by the SPLA from the Sudan during the long civil war against Khartoum, which ended in 2005.
The rebels, meanwhile, denied that they had lost control of Boma, saying in a statement that the SPLA had only captured the small village of Iti, around 35 kilometers outside the town.
They also said they lost only five fighters and, in an email exchange on Monday, threatened to launch a counter-attack against Iti in the coming days.
The claims and counter-claims from both sides came as eight senior diplomats in South Sudan, led by U.S. Ambassador Susan Page, issued a statement voicing their concern about the violence in Jonglei state, which they said required "a political and not a military solution."
The diplomats, who in addition to Page included the ambassadors of Norway, the European Union and Denmark; the chargé d’affaires of the United Kingdom and The Netherlands; Canada's head of office and the head of Switzerland's Cooperation Office, also called for the leaders of all armed groups to accept an offer of amnesty extended last month by President Salva Kiir.
Thousands of rebel fighters accepted the amnesty offer, with Yau Yau a notable exception as he launched an attack on Pibor town days after Kiir extended an olive branch to insurgent groups.
Yau Yau said in an interview with VOA last week that he is fighting for a separate state for ethnic minorities who he says are deprived of their rights in South Sudan, and dismissed as "a joke" an offer from the government in Juba to hold peace talks.
The former theology student first rebelled against the government in 2010 after failing to win a seat in the state parliament. He accepted an earlier amnesty offer made by Kiir in 2011, but then relaunched his rebellion in April last year.
Since then, Yau Yau's rebels have been accused of numerous killings, including the slayings of more than 100 civilians and their SPLA escort in a cattle raid in January, and five U.N. peacekeepers from India and seven local staff members last month.