South Sudan’s army said it regained a rebel-held northern town on Friday, giving the government control of a region where oil production had been halted by fighting that has left the world’s youngest nation close to civil war.
Forces loyal to President Salva Kiir recaptured Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, in early afternoon, army spokesman Philip Aguer told Reuters. “When you control Bentiu you control all the oilfields in Unity state,” he said.
More than three weeks of fighting between government forces and rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar have killed more than 1,000 people and driven 230,000 from their homes and forced a cut in oil production.
Rebels made a “tactical withdrawal to avoid civilian casualties” in Bentiu, according to Lul Ruai Koang, a military spokesman for the rebel delegation attending stuttering peace talks in Ethiopia.
He said rebels continued to hold the surrounding countryside. He said the government forces had been backed by fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, a rebel group from Sudan’s Darfur province.
South Sudan’s rebels also accused neighbouring Uganda of aiding Kiir by launching air strikes against their positions, something Kampala denies. Ugandan troops already patrol Juba’s airport and guard the presidential palace, at Kiir’s request.
South Sudan’s oil production fell by 45,000 barrels per day to 200,000 bpd after oilfields in Unity state were shut down due to fighting. Upper Nile state is still pumping about 200,000 bpd, the government says.
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