After weeks of boasts that the government army was advancing towards Bor and constant claims that the town would fall “within days,” the South Sudan government army has finally announced that it is now in control of Bor, the main rebel stronghold. The rebels began to withdraw Friday morning, according to Sudan People’s Liberation Spokesperson (SPLA), Col. Philip Aguer.
“The SPLA has defeated more than 15,000 forces of Riek Machar composed mainly of the so called white army and three brigades that defected from Division8 SPLA infantry that has been deployed in Jonglei and South Sudan Police Service that defected together with Peter Gadet in Bor,” said Aguer.
Bor is the capital of Jonglei State and was the largest rebel base, as well as the base closest to the South Sudanese capital, Juba. Bor is 125 miles (200 kilometers) north of Juba. Rebels have taken Bor twice since the South Sudanese conflict broke out in mid-December. Before Friday’s withdrawal, the rebels had held Bor since taking it from the SPLA December 31, 2013.
The rebels began their withdrawal after heavy battles the previous week. SPLA entered Bor at 1 p.m. Bor was part of a larger government operation to defeat and remove rebels from the all areas around Juba City. This operation was marked by three major battles between January 5 and 14; Pariak, Sudan Duffery, and Diar. The government of South Sudan had viewed any rebel stronghold so near the capital city as a serious threat on the capital, and had fought constantly to retake the main positions of importanace.
The Ugandan army, whose participation on the government side of the conflict has been controversial, was involved in the reclaiming of Bor. Ugandan spokesperson Paddy Ankunda confirmed that the SPLA now controlled Bor and described the event as a relief to Ugandans currently trapped in South Sudan and to the international community.
Uganda’s military presence has been controversial because international parties suspected that such participation would only add fuel to the fire of the conflict. Also, Uganda is part of the mediation effort taking place in Addis Abada, Ethiopia, and military siding with the government could be been seen as compromising their role as mediator.
The peace talks have been largely stalemated by rebel leader Dr. Riek Machar’s insistence on the release of 11 political prisoners from Juba detention. President Kiir has refused this, and the government has stated that such a move would be impossible, because the prisoners have been arrested and charged and therefore must be processed legally. Mediators at the negotiations have made comments about the effect victories and defeats on the battlefields of South Sudan have had on the progress of the talks.
Exact details of the operation and the retaking of the main rebel stronghold Bor remain to be released by the South Sudanese government. The number of casualties and dead are unknown, as are the number of casualties and dead for the last month since the conflict broke out. An initial figure of 1000 killed was released after the first days of the conflict, and no update succeeded that figure until recent guesses of 10,000 began to circulate. So far in the crisis, nearly 500 000 South Sudanese have been displaced internally and 65,000 South Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, according to the UN Mission in South Sudan.
By Day Blakely Donaldson