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South Sudan Military Vows to Take Back Rebel Areas

People gather at a makeshift camp at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Juba Dec. 22, 2013.
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.