An attack today by South Sudanese rebels on a town in Upper Nile state was the most serious violation yet of a cease-fire signed May 9 by President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, the United Nations said.
Insurgents said they attacked government positions in Nasir earlier in the day and seized control. Government troops are still battling Machar’s forces around the airport in the town near the Ethiopian border, Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the military, said in a phone interview from Juba.
“It is deplorable that this major attack comes at a time when intensive efforts are underway by mediators of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to convince all parties to resume the suspended peace talks in Addis Ababa,” the United Nations Mission in South Sudan said in an e-mailed statement. “It is also worrying that the attack was launched in total disrespect of the presence of” cease-fire monitors from IGAD, a regional bloc mediating the crisis.
Casualties from the latest unrest are “yet to be assessed,” IGAD said. Fighting erupted in South Sudan in mid-December between factions loyal to Kiir and Machar. Thousands of people have died in the violence and at least 1 million have been displaced from their homes, according to the UN.
IGAD “strongly” condemned the attack. “It is regrettable that this incident has come at a time when the mediation team just concluded consultations” with rebel leaders in Ethiopia on how to move negotiations forward, it said today by e-mail.
Machar’s forces fought in “self-defense” for the last three days around Nasir as government soldiers tried to capture Upper Nile rebel commander Gathoth Gatkuoth, spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said. The victory “paves the way” for rebels to advance on the regional capital Malakal and control oil fields at Paloch in Upper Nile in their bid to unseat Kiir and convert South Sudan into a federation of 21 states, he said.