South Sudan's military said Monday that rebel forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar have brought the fighting that has wracked the country for the past 13 months into another state.
Army spokesman Philip Aguer said rebel fighters "...came from the southern part of Unity State and are trying to transport the fighting into Lakes state by trying to attack Maper,” a village in Lakes state.
Aguer said fighting was still ongoing in Maper when he spoke to South Sudan in Focus on Monday afternoon. He did not have casualty figures from the clashes.
UN-run Radio Miraya reported that several houses were burnt down and an unspecified number of civilians were killed in the clashes.
A spokesman for Machar’s rebel group, Lul Ruai Koang, said he has not heard of any fighting in Lakes or Unity states.
Fighting in Upper Nile
The latest fighting comes hard on the heels of clashes in the village of Ondulwich in the northeastern part of Upper Nile state. Aguer said Machar’s rebel forces started the fighting in Ondulwich, in Renk County, which is located in the strategic border region with Sudan.
“The SPLA defeated the attackers and pursued them up to the border where they dispersed into two groups," Aguer said. "One group crossed the border to Sudan and the SPLA stopped at the border with South Sudan."
Koang said the SPLA and a Sudan-based rebel group were responsible for the clashes in Upper Nile.
“Government troops supported by fighters from SPLM-North attacked our forces at Ondulwich," he said.
"We fought for about four hours. During the first engagement, they had the upper-hand and they were able to capture four of our wounded fighters. But in the afternoon we were able to repulse them and killed 189, including seven fighters from SPLM-North. We captured 133 AK-47 assault rifles, 15 PKM light machine guns and 10 RPG-7s, that is rocket-propelled grenade launchers.”
Aguer gave different casualty figures for the fighting in Ondulwich from those given by Koang.
“On the side of the rebels, 24 dead bodies were counted on the ground and the SPLA captured four rebels alive, that were brought here in Juba and we showed them to the media yesterday through South Sudan television," he said.
"On our side, the SPLA lost four ...and 15 wounded. The SPLA captured a lot of weapons including a Toyata mounted with a B10 anti-tank.”
He says the SPLA also discovered a rebel storage facility near Jamam village, in Maban County in Upper Nile State. He says it contained around 1,000 rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and military uniforms that are believed to have come from Sudan.
Fighting erupted in Lakes state shortly after violence broke out in Juba in December 2013. Since that time, though, Lakes state has remained relatively peaceful, and thousands of South Sudanese have sought refuge in the state from fighting in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states.
The fighting in Lakes and Upper Nile states are the latest violations of a cessation of hostilities agreement that was signed nearly a year ago, but has never been respected.
Lucy Poni Modi contributed to this report.