Former South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar has claim that Ugandan fighter jets backing President Salva Kiir’s forces bombed Bor town on Saturday, a claim the Ugandan government has denied.
The State Minister for International Affairs, Mr Oryem Okello, yesterday described claims that Ugandan fighter jets had bombed areas in Jonglei state controlled by mutinying soldiers loyal to Mr Machar as a “bunch of lies” intended to taint Uganda’s image.
South Sudan plunged into turmoil after President Kiir accused Mr Machar of attempting to carry out a coup.
Mr Machar told BBC on Saturday that UPDF had bombed the Jonglei’s capital, Bor.
But Mr Oryem insisted that UPDF is not militarily involved. “Let him not drag us into their problems. Uganda is not involved militarily. We are just evacuating our citizens. Let him not mislead the world. Uganda would only get involved under the auspices of the United Nations,” he said.
Soldiers loyal to Mr Machar shot at American aircrafts in Bor on Saturday and injured four soldiers who are receiving treatment in Nairobi. Mr Machar also confirmed that the forces fighting the government were under his command, adding that they are in control of “much of the country” including Bor, a strategic town, which is the capital city of Jonglei state.
The SPLA spokesperson, Col Philip Aguer, confirmed the fall of Unity state following a declaration by the SPLA 4th Division commander, Maj Gen Koang Chuol, that the region had fallen under the control of Machar.
Sources told the Daily Monitor yesterday that there were several killings in Bentiu, capital of Unity State, estimating that 3,000 people, mainly of the Dinka tribe have been killed in the last six days.
And by 6pm Sunday, security source, said soldiers loyal to Machar had taken full control of Unity state’s oilfields. If confirmed, it will be a huge economic blow for the government. South Sudan has been in turmoil since President Kiir accused Mr Machar a week ago of attempting a coup.
Call for dialogue
UN estimates at least 500 people have been killed since the fighting began with the government struggling to keep control of the capital, Juba.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on both men to “find a political way out of this crisis”. Regional leaders have been trying to initiate dialogue between Machar and President Kiir. Mr Machar, however, said Mr Kiir had to step down first before a meaningful dialogue is launched to restore peace. He also demanded the release of his colleagues arrested in the wake of the clashes last week. There are fears the fighting could trigger a full-blown civil war unless a political deal is struck.
Even though calm has returned to Juba, the UN security report indicate that there were 14 separate sites of fighting by Friday or civil unrest and 34,000 civilians sheltering in or around UN bases. Dr Machar, who is in hiding, has in the past week called for the ouster of President Kiir and insisted he was being targeted for trying to restore democracy in South Sudan.
There has been tension since President Kiir sacked his Cabinet in July, including Dr Machar, who was then his vice-president. This stoked fears of ethnic division between the two dominant ethnic groups: Mr Kiir’s Dinka community and Dr Machar’s Nuer group.
One such instance was the massacre of more than 20 people, mostly Dinkas, in a UN camp in Akobo, Jonglei State on Saturday night. Two UN peacekeepers were killed when the armed men, thought to be Nuers, broke into the camp.
The Human Rights Watch has also accused government forces of targeted killings of Nuers in Juba in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt. Dr Machar has frequently accused President Kiir of failing to tackle corruption, nepotism and insecurity. This may have led to his sacking in July, especially after he openly criticised the government while on a UK tour.
At least 2,000 Ugandans are stranded in Jonglei State, the region that is worst hit by violence ever since fighting started seven days ago in South Sudan. “We are trying to reinforce the evacuation effort right now. But it’s very risky to land in Jonglei because of the fighting,” the Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Mr Fred Opolot, said.
UPDF said it had deployed “a small force” to secure Juba in order to evacuate thousands of Ugandans who stranded in the capital and by Saturday, at least 604 people had been evacuated by the UPDF. Acting Air Force spokesperson, Capt Antony Tabaro, said they had evacuated 293 people on Friday and 311 on Saturday.