The South Sudanese army claimed Wednesday to have captured the key rebel-held town of Leer in oil-rich Unity State.
It is the birthplace of former Vice President and rebel leader Riek Machar and its capture follows some of the heaviest fighting of the 17-month old conflict.
Army spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer said the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) remains in full control of the town of Palouch contrary to rebel claims they had captured Palouch and its oil fields.
“The only county that is still remaining in the hands of the rebels is Panyijiar. SPLA forces are in Leer and more than 95 percent of Unity State is under the control of the SPLA tonight,” he said.
Aguer described the rebel claim of being in control of Palouch as a “short-lived” victory.
“Riek Machar rebels dream to enter oil fields and destroy or annex it to the northern part of Sudan. This (Wednesday) evening, the SPLA defeated the rebels in Melut. The SPLA ground defense units destroyed their barges and boats that have been wreaking havoc and destruction along the Nile. The SPLA is in full control of Melut,” Aguer said.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon Wednesday condemned the latest fighting describing it as yet another violation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement by the parties in January 2014.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, also condemned the latest fighting. In a statement Wednesday, she said, “The international community is footing the bill for President Salva Kiir’s and opposition leader Riek Machar’s shameful disregard for the devastating humanitarian crisis facing the people of South Sudan.”
Power said the U.S. will continue to work with the U.N. Security Council’s South Sudan Sanctions Committee, “to gather and review evidence that might be useful for sanctions listings that target political spoilers and those who violate and abuse human rights and violate international humanitarian law.”
Aguer denied South Sudan is interested only in a military and not a peaceful solution to the conflict.
“The SPLA as a national army has a security responsibility mandated by the constitution of the Republic of South Sudan to defend the independence and sovereignty of South Sudan and protect the people wherever they are,” he said.
He said the government of Salva Kiir is still interested in pursuing the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace initiative.
“We, in the SPLA, support the regional and international supported peace initiative, particularly the one supported by the United States of America. We wish the peace will be a chief this year in Addis Ababa,” he said.
Reacting to reports earlier this week that unknown armed men killed and raped children in the latest round of fighting, Aguer said rape and torture are not a part of the government’s rules of engagement
“There are organizations that are tarnishing the image of the SPLA as an army. In our rules of engagement, I really doubt the credibility of those people who say they witnessed raping and killing. However, we continue to welcome an investigation into all the allegations,” said Aguer.