South Sudan army advancing

2015-05-18 21:02
South Sudan army (SPLA) soldiers. (Samir Bol, AFP)

South Sudan army (SPLA) soldiers. (Samir Bol, AFP)

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Juba - South Sudan's army is advancing on a key rebel enclave, a spokesperson said on Monday, as UN and aid agencies warned fighting had cut hundreds of thousands of civilians off from "life-saving aid".

The government assault that began late April is one of the heaviest offensives in the 17-month long civil war and has cut off over 650 000 from aid, with gunmen raping, torching towns and looting relief supplies, according to the UN and aid agencies.

Government forces have been pushing south from the government-held town of Bentiu, state capital of Unity state, towards the opposition zone around the town of Leer.

"We have pursued the rebels from around Bentiu up to Leer," South Sudan army spokesperson Philip Aguer said.

It was not immediately clear if fighting had reached the town itself, but the UN warned of the devastating impact of the fighting, in both Unity and Upper Nile, where rebels attacked the state capital Malakal on Friday.

"UN agencies and their partners are working to address the immense humanitarian consequences of the violence, which has resulted in more than 650 000 civilians being left without life-saving aid," UN aid chief in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said in a statement.

Fighting broke out in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings across the country.

Leer, the birthplace of Machar, was ransacked by government forces in January 2014, with gunmen looting and torching the hospital there run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

MSF has since rebuilt the hospital, the only referral facility in opposition areas.

"Military operations in Unity and Upper Nile states over the past three days in particular have again devastated countless lives," Lanzer said.

"Eyewitness accounts report targeted rape and killing of civilians, including children. The offensive in Unity has left thousands of homes burnt and Leer hospital is again under threat of destruction."

At the same time, the army said it was still battling for control of Malakal, gateway to the country's last remaining major oil fields, after a pro-government general holding sway in the area swapped sides to join the rebels, taking his tribal militia with him.

Read more on:    un  |  msf  |  riek machar  |  salva kiir  |  south sudan  |  east africa

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