South Sudan Army Fights Rebels in Oil State as UN Voices Concern

South Sudan’s army clashed with rebels in oil-rich Unity state as the United Nations said it received reports of killings, rapes and abductions by unidentified parties over the past three weeks.

Government forces have fought insurgents to prevent the rebels from attacking the state capital of Bentiu, army spokesman Philip Aguer said by phone. He also accused rebels of preparing an assault on Malakal, capital of Upper Nile state. Rebel deputy spokesman Dickson Gatluak denied any such plans and said fighters withdrew from Unity’s Mayandit county on Tuesday after a government offensive.

The UN mission in South Sudan said Monday that it has grown “increasingly concerned” about reports from Unity’s Guit and Koch counties of settlements being burned, killings, abductions of boys as young as 10 and the kidnapping and rape of females. Although it is “unclear who committed such atrocities,” the government has a responsibility to ensure civilians are protected, the mission said in a statement. Aguer said the reports require investigation.

Clashes in Africa’s newest nation have occurred sporadically since a power struggle in the ruling party turned violent in December 2013. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million. Oil production has stalled in Unity since the conflict began, as the government attempts to repair facilities.

South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to BP Plc data. Its low-sulfur crude is prized by Japanese buyers as a cleaner-burning fuel for power generation. Before the fighting broke out, China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. pumped most of the country’s oil.

NGOs Evacuated

The UN on Monday said that fighting in Unity forced its agencies and all non-governmental organizations to evacuate staff from the state. About 100,000 people have been displaced by fighting in Unity since the beginning of May, UN aid coordinator Toby Lanzer said on May 8.

Both sides say there are no definite plans for further peace talks in neighboring Ethiopia, which stalled in March. The opposition commander of Upper Nile, Major-General Gathoth Gatkuoth, said fighting should continue until President Salva Kiir leaves office. It’s “better to continue the war until we achieve our objective through barrel of our guns,” he said Monday in an e-mailed statement.

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