Reports of violence and military actions along the Bor-Juba roadway

[1]  Agence France-Presse [Juba], January 4, 2014

“Heavy gunfire reported in South Sudan capital”

 Heavy gunfire broke out in South Sudan’s capital Saturday, an AFP correspondent said, ending days of relative calm in Juba despite the raging three-week long conflict in the troubled country. Explosions from reported artillery fire as well as the constant rattle of automatic weapons were heard in Juba’s key government district, where most ministries, the presidential palace and the parliament are located.

[2]  Gurtong.net [Juba], January 4, 2014 (www.Gurtong.net)

“UN Denies Reports Of Rebel Advance On Juba”

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has denied reports alleging that the United Nations said that rebels are advancing on the South Sudan capital, Juba. “UNMISS has noted with concern reports in the news media which alleged that the United Nations said that “the rebels are advancing on Juba.”  ”No UN official has made such a statement to the press,” a statement from the mission has said. The mission said that it is reinforcing its presence in the Republic of South Sudan to deliver on its mandate to protect civilians This includes police, military, logistics support and selected numbers of civilian staff who are needed at this time and reinforcements will be prioritized to the areas affected by the current fighting. “More resources will particularly be allocated to Bor, Malakal, Bentiu and Juba,” the mission said in a statement.

[3]  Sudan Tribune (Juba), January 4, 2014  (www.sudantribune.com)

“SPLA says moving to recapture rebel areas, denies Machar forces advancing to Juba”

The South Sudanese army (SPLA) has dismissed reports that rebels, led by former vice-president Riek Machar, were moving towards the capital, Juba, saying they were instead retreating. Col. Philip Aguer, the spokesperson (SPLA) told Sudan Tribune on Friday that the rebels “will be running not advancing.” “There is no threat to Juba,” Aguer confidently said by phone. South Sudan has been in state of crisis since President Salva Kiir accused Machar and other senior members of his ruling Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) of attempting to oust his government in mid-December last year. Infighting within the army on 15 December spread to other parts of the capital, while reports that civilians were targeted on the basis of their ethnicity led to parts of the army rebelling in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states.

Aguer said SPLA forces were advancing towards Bor, the capital of Jonglei, to flush out the rebels that have held the town for three days. The mutineers took control of Bor three days ago – the second time they have wrestled control of the area from government forces since the conflict erupted.

The army spokesperson, however, stressed that the rebels “will be running from Bor, not advancing to Juba.” “We have not yet taken complete control Bor but there is a fighting there. It is a matter of time before our forces get complete control” he said on Friday. The army, Aguer said, were also looking to retake Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, which is home to South Sudan’s most productive oil fields. The rebels, last week claimed that oil production was halted as key staff were evacuated from the area.

He said the SPLA forces were advancing onto Bentiu from both Panrieng and Mayom counties. “They have already taken control of Mayom and moving toward Bentiu,” explained the spokesperson. “The only exit strategy for these renegade forces is surrender,” he said, adding that the army may attempt to starve them out. “Their sources of food supplies are looting only. These loots will soon dry off. As a national army, we call on our people to stand behind the SPLA forces in defend of territorial integrity, sovereignty and the constitution,” Aguer stressed. The SPLA stands ready to defend the country, its people, their properties and from protecting them from any physical threat or harm, he added.

But an official connected to the soldiers who rebelled in Unity state told Sudan Tribune that Aguer’s comments were “propaganda” and dismissed the latter’s claims that SPLA had retaken Mayom or was marching onto Bentiu. “I just talked with people on ground and they told me that forces loyal to Salva Kiir attempted to launch an attack near Mayom, hoping to take it but it was contained. That attempt is no longer a threat to our people and the state administration,” said the official who preferred anonymity. “Everything is running normally. The market is presently operating as usual,” he added. On 21 December the commander of the SPLA’s fourth division in Unity state, James Kaong, announced that he had rebelled against Kiir’s government, declaring that he was the state’s new governor. He has since appointed a new administration.

[4]  Summary of NGO perspective, intel (January 4, 2014)

Intense fighting continues along the Juba-Bor road according to a senior officer in the rebelling military forces.  Locations of fighting include Pariack, Safaia, and most significantly Mangalla.  The latter is a major town on the road from Bor to Juba, less than 50 kilometers away (30 miles).  The rebels claim a smashing victory and the capture of great quantities of equipment.  The Nuer “White Army” seems to be working in tandem with the rebels.

Although publicly denying these developments (see #3 above) officials at military intelligence in Juba have confirmed that the SPLA was indeed mauled at Mangalla, and that many soldiers have fled to Juba.  The presence of these soldiers will inevitably add to the sense fear, even panic that is already in the air—this despite various claims about “normalcy” prevailing in Juba.  (Although AFP reports [see above] “heavy gunfire” in Juba.)

US and other national embassy staff are being evacuated because of fears that there will be hit-and-run Nuer attacks inside Juba, precisely to exacerbate fears.  There are also fears of long-range artillery striking targets inside Juba, or even mortar attacks; designed to create panic, such attacks would nonetheless bring into range all international embassies in the city.

[5]  Sudan Tribune (Nairobi), January 4, 2014 (www.sudantribune.com)

“South Sudan’s ex-Vice President says Juba will fall soon”

The three-week old rebels in South Sudan said they were advancing on the capital, Juba, as fighting between rival politicians intensifies further. “Today our forces crushed the amassed government soldiers at their stronghold in Jameza on Juba road. Our troops broke their stronghold and are pursuing them as they flee back to Juba. Juba will fall soon,” South Sudan former vice-president Riek Machar told Sudan Tribune by phone Friday. However, the government army’s (SPLA) spokesperson, Philip Aguer, said the government’s forces were instead moving to recapture Bor from the rebels. “We have enough forces to recapture Bor…We will take it in the next 24 hours,” he said. Aguer, however, warned the media not to broadcast news about the rebels advance, saying this would cause panic among the populations in the capital….

The news about the rebels advance toward Juba caused a lot of panic in the capital. The United States on Friday ordered its embassy personnel in South Sudan to leave the country in the wake of the deteriorating security situation. “On January 3, 2014, there will be an evacuation flight arranged by the Department of State to the nearest safe haven country,” partly read an emergency statement issued. But other government sources quietly admitted to Sudan Tribune that the rebels were truly advancing, adding that it was not, however, in the interest of the government to tell the truth about the military situation.

“Of course today on Juba-Bor road they have crushed the forces we mobilized to retake Bor. It was a disaster. But we will deploy again,” said the source that preferred anonymity. He further explained that they lost several tanks and artillery weapons. He also said the government’s forces lost some senior military officers, which he did not want to name, when they fell into an ambush laid by the rebels. The retreating troops combined with “Ugandan forces,” he revealed, were under the command of the deputy chief of staff of operations, lieutenant general Malual Ayom, adding that the chief of general staff, Gen James Hoth Mai, was preparing to personally command the next battles against the rebels advance toward Juba. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Friday also confirmed that the fighting was going on towards Juba. Col. Mike Chadrick of UNMISS in Bor told the BBC he independently verified that two armed groups were fighting about 40 miles away on Juba-Bor road.

The situation was calm in Bor town, he said, which remains under the control of pro-Machar forces.

A rebel commander, Bridagier General Khor Chol, who took part in the Friday engagement, also said the government soldiers were retreating back to Juba and will not be able to stop them from advancing in to Juba. “We are currently pursuing pro-Salva Kiir soldiers. We are surely matching and will enter Juba soon,” he said. He added the government was not telling the truth to the citizens about “what is actually taking place on the ground in the battle fields,” adding that government spokespersons employed “propaganda of lies with the aim to deceive the public.”

He described Aguer’s claim of trying to attack Bentiu in Unity state as a “mere propaganda” and a desperate attempt to raise the morale of the “demoralised” government troops. Khor cautioned the residents of Juba to stay indoors or seek refuge with UNMISS as the rebels would storm the capital “any time soon.”