South Sudan rebels claim key oilfields

2015-06-06 23:00
(Pete Muller, AP, File)

(Pete Muller, AP, File)

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Juba - South Sudan's rebels claimed on Saturday they had seized control of key oilfields in the north of the country after weeks of heavy fighting with government forces.

Rebel spokesperson James Gatdet Dak told AFP that all oil infrastructure in Unity state was now in rebel hands, and said the rebels were now seeking to capture the oil fields in neighbouring Upper Nile state and starve the government of oil revenues.

"There is now no oil production at all in Unity State. All the oilfields in South Sudan are our targets with the aim to capture and shut down their operations," he said.

"The plan is to close down oil production in both Unity and Upper Nile states. These are the only two oil producing states in South Sudan. We want to deny Salva Kiir's regime from using oil revenues to finance the war," he added.

The government has confirmed recent heavy fighting in Unity State, but gave no further details.

Both sides have also confirmed ongoing fighting around the ruined town of Malakal, the state capital of Upper Nile and the gateway to the country's last remaining major oil fields.

The town has repeatedly changed hands since the civil war began in December 2013, and is currently in government hands - albeit largely flattened in the latest round of fighting.

Heavy offensive

Upper Nile's state information minister, Peter Hoth Tuach, told the Sudan Tribune news website that the local government has been forced to shift its headquarters further north because it "currently has no buildings to operate in", Malakal having been "seriously destroyed".

The civil war began when President Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings across the country that have split the impoverished, landlocked country along tribal and ethnic lines.

South Sudanese government forces, who are being backed by Ugandan soldiers, launched a major assault on rebel-held areas in the north in late April, in what has been described as one of the heaviest offensives since the war began.

The fighting has cut off over 650 000 people from aid, with gunmen torching towns, raping residents and looting relief supplies, according to the United Nations and aid agencies.

Over half of the country's 12 million people are in need of aid, with 2.5 million people facing severe food insecurity, according to the UN.

The economy is also facing collapse, according to the UN's aid co-ordinator - although the government has expelled him from the country for saying so.

Read more on:    riek machar  |  south sudan  |  east africa

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