April 25, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudanese rebels under the leadership of former vice-president Riek Machar claimed on Friday that its fighters had killed and wounded dozens of Sudanese rebels fighting alongside the government after fresh clashes in Unity state.
In a statement extended to Sudan Tribune, rebel military spokesperson Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang said that the Darfur-based Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) had suffered “heavy losses”, with 69 members killed, including senior commanders.
Koang said forces under the command of Col. Keerdol Thong and the 4th division’s elite unit under the overall command of Unity state military governor Maj. Gen. James Koang Chuol had emerged victorious following a three-hour battle in Manga village between Parieng county and Unity junction.
He named Maj. Gen. Abdurrahman Juma, JEM’s operations commander in Unity state and Brig. Gen. Ahmed Abukalam as the top JEM generals killed in action.
The rebel spokesperson said one intelligence operative was captured and four Toyota land cruisers mounted with machine guns were destroyed during the offensive.
He also said another 14 Toyota land cruisers mounted with different types of artillery pieces and air defence machine guns were captured, while four more were destroyed.
Koang claimed that all vehicles seized bore JEM markings and were painted in the rebel group’s colours.
He said the Sudanese rebels had fled in disarray and are being pursued by pro-Machar forces towards Parieng county.
South Sudanese rebels have accused both the Ugandan army (UPDF) and JEM rebels of fighting alongside president Salva Kiir’s government. While Uganda admits to deploying forces in the country, JEM has always denied its involvement.
JUBA, JEM DENY CLAIMS
Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the South Sudanese army (SPLA), Colonel Philip Aguer, and JEM spokesperson Gibreel Adam Bilal denied the claims by the SPLM-In-Opposition .
Aguer said he was unaware of any fighting involving Sudanese rebel fighters and denied South Sudan was harbouring Sudanese opposition forces, describing the allegations as “propaganda”.
“This is not true. There are no Sudanese rebels inside the territory of the Republic of South Sudan, let alone fighting alongside our forces,” Aguer told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
“What the rebels of Riek Machar are doing is spreading lies and propaganda, which is part of their strategy in this conflict. All they say lacks [any] basis,” he added.
Bilal has also repeatedly denied the allegations, calling on rebels to deliver JEM fighters to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to prove their claims.
“We want to emphasise that JEM has no leaders, soldiers or members in Unity state in South Sudan. Thus, saying they killed two leading members is [a] manifestly unfounded claim,” he said.
He accused the SPLM-In-Opposition of issuing false statements to divert attention from recent massacres of Sudanese nationals its forces are alleged to have carried out in Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state.
South Sudanese rebels seized control of Bentiu from government troops loyal to Kiir on 15 April.
The region has been the scene of heavy fighting between rebels and government forces since violence erupted in the country in mid-December last year, with the strategic town changing hands several times at the height of the conflict.
Since the latest rebel offensive, disturbing reports of atrocities have emerged from Bentiu, amid allegations rebel troops carried out targeted killings of civilians from the Dinka tribe, of which Kiir hails, and Sudanese nationals.
The Sudanese government this week issued a statement denouncing the killing of Sudanese citizens, rejecting claims victims were mistakenly killed after Machar’s forces thought they belonged to Darfur rebel groups.
Khartoum has accused the Kiir administration of using Sudanese rebel groups in its fight against pro-Machar rebels, saying the move constitutes a violation of the security agreements signed between the two countries.
South Sudanese rebels have dismissed accusations that their fighters carried out targeted killings of Sudanese trader in Bentiu, describing the claims as “lies”.