Heavy fighting has continued in the bushes around the South Sudanese national capital, Juba, with Riek Machar’s faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA-IO) claiming to be closing in on the capital with the aim to take it over.
According to South Sudan media, the fighting has been taking place inside deep forests in different locations on Juba-Yei road, Juba-Mundri road and in the northwest of the capital between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and opposition forces loyal to the relieved First Vice President, Riek Machar.
“Heavy fighting has been going on for the past three days. President Salva Kiir’s forces have been on offensive against our forces. They are hunting for the First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar, with the aim to eliminate him. However, our forces have been fighting back in self-defence,” said James Gatdet Dak, Machar’s spokesperson.
He said their forces have been repulsing the attacks and have inflicted heavy losses on the forces loyal to President Kiir with “several hundreds of them killed in the forests” and a number of areas captured in Lanya county and Katigiri.
He also claimed that the opposition forces have captured up to 21 military trucks and logistics, including bull dozers, urols [big trucks] and small pickup trucks, in addition to different types of rifles.
Dak added that the opposition forces have besieged Juba from different directions and will be forced to move on to the capital to take control of it and restore law and order.
“My leadership has been calling for prompt deployment of a third party force to separate the two forces so that the First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar, can return to Juba and continue with the implementation of the peace agreement without threats of return to violence in the capital. But if this does not happen and President Kiir’s forces continue to attack our forces with the aim to eliminate Dr. Machar, our forces will be forced to capture Juba,” he said.
He further said that their forces have closed both the Juba-Yei road and Juba-Mundri roads and are closing in on Juba.
Dak said taking control of Juba by the opposition forces would put to an end the ongoing attacks on their forces and restore peace and security in the capital and beyond.
Sudan Tribune could not independently verify the level of casualties involved in the ongoing fighting in the thick forests as it is difficult to know what is happening and no official statement has been made by the government.
A military official loyal to President Kiir told Sudan Tribune that he believed there have been “heavy losses” on both sides, more than the losses incurred at J1 and Jebel Kujur’s two days of fighting.
South Sudan’s government on Friday in a cabinet meeting chaired by President Kiir resolved not to allow a third party force to deploy in Juba, saying the current 12,000 peacekeepers of the United Nations are enough and only their mandate can be negotiated and reviewed.
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However, on Sunday, there were unconfirmed reports that the government’s security officials held a security meeting with the aim to review the Friday’s decision in the wake of the threats by the opposition forces to take over Juba.
Meanwhile, civilians have continued to flee from the capital in fear of imminent fighting in Juba, with dozens of government troops fleeing into the United Nations camps in the outskirt of the capital.