South Sudan’s government said at least 400 people were killed by rebels allied with former Vice President Riek Machar when they seized the capital of oil-rich Unity state last week.
Machar “directed his forces” to commit ethnic killings in Bentiu, Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth told reporters today in the national capital, Juba. The United Nations on April 21 said rebels killed hundreds of civilians sheltering in the town of Bentiu after determining their ethnicity or nationality.
“The government condemns in the strongest terms these barbaric attacks,” Lueth said. “What happened in Bentiu was worse than a war crime.” Rebel spokesman Lul Ruai Koang has denied his group’s forces targeted civilians.
The conflict in the world’s newest nation, between factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Machar, erupted in December and has left thousands of people dead and driven a million from their homes, according to the UN.
Rebels have also attacked locations in Upper Nile, the only state still pumping crude after four months of conflict, Lueth said. “They have attempted to attack the oil fields and we’re giving them a hot pursuit,” he said.
South Sudan’s oil output has fallen by about a third to 160,000 barrels per day since fighting erupted on Dec. 15, according to the Petroleum Ministry. Machar has vowed to seize oil fields in Upper Nile to starve the military of revenue.
Upper Nile produces Dar Blend, a low-sulfur crude that is prized by Japanese buyers as a cleaner-burning fuel for power plants. China National Petroleum Corp., India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. and Petroliam Nasional Bhd., the main producers of South Sudan’s oil, evacuated employees from the country because of the violence.
South Sudan’s government is still committed to peace talks to end the rebellion even as fighting continues, Lueth said. Negotiations are due to resume on April 28, the East African bloc mediating the talks said yesterday.
“The government will never waver in any way in the pursuit of peace,” Lueth said. “We will continue to negotiate with the rebels until they come to their senses.”