South Sudan’s government says it is preparing to re-take territory seized by rebel factions of the country's army. A week-long crisis in the country has left hundreds dead and tens of thousands fleeing for their lives.
South Sudan’s army spokesman Philip Aguer said the military was being deployed to the town of Bor, capital of Jonglei state, which was seized by forces under control of a rebel commander last week.
“Definitely the army is planning to restore control and retake those towns into the control of the government,” he said.
Aguer estimates that some 1,500 soldiers have defected in Jonglei after a political rift between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar turned violent last week, dividing the country’s military in some areas.
The fighting, which has left hundreds of people dead, may escalate if the military sends soldiers to attack soldiers.
Aguer said the government had to act in the best interest of the country.
“The role of the army is to protect the territorial integrity of the country and protect the civilians. Those people are killing innocent civilians and the army is supposed to move in and restore stability and peace to the citizens of this country,” he said.
Another group of soldiers defected in Unity state, on the border with Sudan, and have taken control of the state capital Bentiu.
The government said the violence began last week when supporters of former vice president Machar attempted a coup. Machar has not directly acknowledged leading a coup attempt but last week called on the army to remove Kiir from power.
The United Nations said some 42,000 civilians caught in the crossfire have sought refuge at U.N. bases across the country.
The United States, Britain, Uganda and Kenya have airlifted many of their citizens from the country.
Four U.S. soldiers were wounded in an evacuation operation Saturday in Bor when their aircraft came under fire. South Sudan’s military says rebel forces were responsible for the attack.
Members of the South Sudan rebel delegation attend the opening ceremony of South Sudan's peace negotiations, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 4, 2014.
Taban Deng Gai, left, head of the rebel delegation and South Sudan's leader of the government delegation, Nhial Deng Nhial, attend the opening ceremony of South Sudan's peace negotiations, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 4, 2014.
Unidentified members of the delegation from the South Sudan government and western observers meet at the Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 4, 2014.
A displaced mother and her baby, one of the few to have a mosquito net, wake up at a refugee camp, Awerial, South Sudan, Jan. 2, 2014.
A young displaced girl carries a bucket of water back to her makeshift shelter at a United Nations compound. The compound has become home to thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
Displaced people gather inside a mosquito net tent as they flee from the fighting between the South Sudanese army and rebels in Bor town, in Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 30, 2013.
A displaced woman hangs up laundry on the plastic sheeting wall of a latrine at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
Yared, 2, is held by his mother, Madhn, who fled from the town of Bor a few days ago. She receives medicine for her child at a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) medical tent, at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
A young displaced boy rests on the wheel arch of a water truck while others fill containers from it, at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Africa, Dec. 31, 2013.
A family makes tea outside their makeshift shelter at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
A general view of a camp for displaced people set up in a United Nations compound in Bor, South Sudan, Dec. 25, 2013.
South Sudan army soldiers hold their weapons as they ride on a truck in Bor, Dec. 25, 2013.