South Sudanese rival forces have clashed around a strategic town, Yei, which is about 160 km south of the national capital, Juba, and towards the Ugandan border.
This is after the opposition forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA-IO) in Opposition under the leadership of the former first vice president, Riek Machar, captured Lasu County, southwest of Yei.
Officials of the opposition faction confirmed that fighting erupted around Yei town, the capital of the newly formed Yei River State, when their forces came under attack from forces loyal to President Salva Kiir.
“Our forces of the SPLA (IO) came under attack today, when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir moved out of Yei town and attacked them. They were attacked in their defensive position some kilometers away north of Yei town,” James Gatdet Dak, spokesperson for Machar, leader of the country’s main opposition faction, said.
“However, our forces fought back in self-defence and chased the attacking forces back into the town. They did not follow them to capture the town,” he added.
Dak also revealed that their forces on Monday captured a strategic county of Lasu, which is south of Yei town, towards Kaya at the border with Uganda.
He also said another force from Juba was defeated on Tuesday between Juba and Lainya County when it attempted to attack the SPLA-IO forces on Juba-Yei road, which he claimed to have been closed by the opposition forces.
He further claimed that like Juba, Yei has also been besieged by the opposition forces.
The opposition leader’s spokesman also said fighting was going on around Renk, in the furthest north of the country, near Sudan’s border. Also there has been fighting in Nasir and Maban areas in Upper Nile state, he added.
There are also reports of fighting around Raga in Western Bahr el Ghazal state, west of the country.
Fighting erupted in Juba on July 8 between bodyguards of the two rival leaders, Kiir and Machar, and spread throughout the town, forcing Machar and his small number of troops to leave Juba and relocate into the bushes around the capital.
Opposition officials accused President Kiir’s forces of starting the fighting at the palace in an attempt to kill their leader, an accusation which President Kiir’s officials have denied.
President Kiir went ahead by replacing Machar, saying he had stopped communicating with him and called on him to return to the capital. Machar said he would only return to Juba once a third party force is deployed to separate the rival forces and guarantee his safety.
He also said his replacement was ‘illegal’ and a violation of the Article 6.5 of the Agreement on the Resolutions of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS).
The East African regional bloc, IGAD, in their communiqué released on Friday called on Machar to return to Juba and assume his position as first vice president, calling on the newly appointed replacement, Taban Deng Gai, to step aside.
Meanwhile, as fighting continues around Juba, the two sides have called for reinforcements from different locations and fighting has been intensifying in the bushes around the capital and in other areas in the country.
United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is expected to discuss and pass a resolution on Friday for deployment of a third party force in Juba to take charge of its security, including protecting the leadership, civilians and key government installations.