South Sudan – A government attack on the city of Bor is underway: SPLA troops are fast approaching Bor and should take Bor before Saturday morning, according to SPLA general Malual Ayom Dor.
Ayom is leading the SPLA army in operations against Bor, a city 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of the Juba. Juba is the capital of South Sudan.
Colonel Philip Aguer, an army spokesman, announced that the SPLA and rebels battled Friday morning, that the rebels were now retreating, and that the rebels would move north of Bor by evening.
Aguer stated, “The SPLA is moving with confidence. We have enough forces to defeat them within 24 hours.”
Accounts of skirmishes have been reported by the government, rebels, and citizens fleeing from the conflict zones to Juba.
According to citizens, the SPLA was fighting the White Army 22-25 miles (35-40 kilometers) south of Bor towards Juba, Thursday.
SPLA representatives stated that SPLA forces had engaged with rebels near Mangala, 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the capital.
Colonel Aguer stated that the army had captured several of the rebel fighters.
The SPLA explained that the rebel White Army was disputing SPLA reinforcements travelling between Juba and Bor which had been sent as a pre-emptive force against a rebel-march towards Juba.
The SPLA remarked that since there is no ceasefire as yet, Bor–which is held by rebels under defected commander Peter Gadet–will be attacked by SPLA from Juba. SPLA will attack Bor, according to SPLA representatives, because a rebel-held Bor is a threat to Juba.
These accounts conflicted somewhat with other statements issued by government officials.
The government denied that rebel forces are marching on Juba Friday. The government stated that the White Army is contained in Bor.
Aguer responded to reports of a rebel advance on Juba thus: “I don’t know how will the rebels that Al Jazeera is reporting–how will they be advancing to Juba. They will be running from Bor, not advancing to Juba.”
Although the government is explicitly planning an attack on Bor and has mobilized the SPLA for such an attack, Machar has announced that the rebels will not march on Juba–for the time being at least.
Machar stated in an interview with Hannah McNeish that the rebels will hold off from attacking Juba in hopes of a “negotiated settlement,” referring to the peace talks in Addis Abada that have now begun. Machar said that he was retrained by the international community, but that the rebels would continue to hold all current positions and defend all rebel-held oilfields, including those in Jonglei State. Machar warned that Kiir’s attempts to retake rebel-controlled areas threatened the peace talks.
Machar also remarked on Thursday’s skirmishes between Juba and Bor. Machar said that the rebels fought SPLA and destroyed a 900-troops convoy armed with four tanks and heavy weaponry.
Appraising the tenuous situation of ongoing aggressive violence whilst negotiating peace, a security expert in South Sudan commented that “Whichever way the military engagements go, it will impact significantly on the talks in the next 24 to 48 hours.”
Peace talk delegates in Addis Abada met for the first time Friday for preliminary talks, but reportedly these talks were carried out through mediators rather than face to face. The goal of these preliminary talks was to smooth out tensions before actual formal negotiations begin.
However, government representative Ateny Wek Ateny announced Friday that the two groups had not agreed on an agenda. Rebel leader Machar also stated that the agenda for negotiations had not yet been agreed upon, nor had his preconditioned release of 11 political prisoners been heeded by Kiir.
Formal talks are scheduled to begin Saturday at the Addis Abada Sheraton Hotel.
The talks will supposedly focus entirely on ceasing hostilities, according to the mediators, the IGAD East African trading organization. IGAD is being led in negotiations by Ethiopia’s former Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin.
Rebel delegates arrived Wednesday and early Thursday. Government delegates arrived Thursday afternoon.
The rebel delegation engaged in talks with Mesfin Thursday, and afterwards tried to hold a press conference outside the Sheraton Hotel. The delegation made two attempt to a hold press conference, but were prevented by Ethiopian authorities.
Movements and remove-ments of people has been taking place in South Sudan over the past days.
Government forces have been called to the capital from South Sudanese states where there is no rebel violence.
The governor of Central Equatoria State has called on all trained organized forces of the government in Central Equatoria State to return to the capital, Juba within three days.
The forces referred to include SPLA army, police, prison, fire, wildlife, and air defence officers. The order refers to officers who have previously received training. The order does not refer to fresh officers.
The forces are to gather at the headquarters of the various counties except where this is impossible due to rebel control. From these points the forces will be transported to Juba.
The purpose of the movement was training. The forces would be trained specially to defend South Sudan from Machar-loyal rebels.
Evacuations of American, UN, and Sudanese citizens has been increased.
The U.S. ordered more of its American Embassy staff out of South Sudan. The number of American staff to be moved was not specified, but all but core personnel are to be withdrawn. The U.S. also warned that it would not provide consular services for U.S. citizens in South Sudan as of Saturday, January 4. The U.S. State Department website travel advisory states that these measures were taken “because of the deteriorating security situation” in South Sudan.
The State Department travel advisory read, “We continue to urge U.S. citizens in South Sudan to depart the country,” and described an evacuation flight Friday to “the nearest safe haven country” on a first-come, first-served basis.
It had been reported Friday that Susan Page, the American Ambassador in South Sudan, had been evacuated, but Page remains in South Sudan.
Page commented, “We are not suspending our operations, we are just minimizing our presence.”
An American Embassy spokesperson announced, “The Embassy will still remain in terms of engaging in political dialogue and work towards a peaceful solution to the current situation. At the same time it is important to note the Embassy will not be able to provide consular services to American citizens. Any American who has an interest in leaving South Sudan today is advised to call the emergency number immediately. The number to call is 0912 105 107.”
The U.S. has offered $50 million in aid money while withdrawing.
The U.S. had begun evacuating U.S. citizens from various locations in South Sudan as the conflict broke out in mid-December. The U.S. Embassy has been protected by 45 American marines sent by President Obama December 20.
The UN is also withdrawing all but core personnel.
Sudan has announced that it will evacuate all Sudanese citizens from south Sudan in the next 72 hours. Sudanese in South Sudan will fly out of Juba airport. Approximately 320 Sudanese have already evacuated South Sudan.
Sudanese officials have expressed concern that South Sudanese refugees might flee into Sudan over the border. Officials have stated that neither Darfur nor the DRA have the capacity to host refugees. On Tuesday the UNHCR announced that “several hundred” South Sudanese had come to Sudan.
The situation with refugees is worsening, as expected.
Awerial County, Lake State, is reporting that people fleeing Bor are moving in boats across the White Nile towards Yiol and Rumbek. Tens of thousands have fled Bor, which city is facing worsening water food, sanitation, and medicine conditions.
Awerial County is hard-pressed to meet the demands of the 75 000 (UN estimate) IDPs who have sought refuge in Awerial. The number is expected to rise. UN in Awerial issued a humanitarian warning recently due to the danger of disease. Oxfam announced Thursday that it was responding to Awerial with a rapid response team to support water, sanitation, and health needs in Lakes State.
Bor refugees have also arrived in Juba–about 2200, mostly children without parents–since Thursday. This group is being hosted by the Islamic Center in east Konyo Konyo, Juba. Food has been provided to them by the Islamic Center and the Sudanese government. There are currently 30 000 refugees in Juba, with more arriving.
In Bor, flights have been disrupted, but some helicopters were still able to land Friday.
The UN compound in Bor still hosts around 10 000 people.
Malakal, Upper Nile State is also suffering after massive displacement of its citizens during the last week’s fighting has caused health strains. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Food distributions have begun. Large parts of Malakal are deserted, but the town is currently calm, according to the UN. According to NGOs, additional mobile health clinics are underway, which should be ready by next wee, as attacks in Bor and elsewhere in South Sudan continue.
By Day Blakely Donaldson