12 January 2014, News Wires – South Sudanese troops have recaptured a key town in one of the country’s oil-rich states from rebels, according to a report, as the major African crude producer teeters on the brink of civil war.
Government forces were separated from Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state, only by a bridge, and the army told all civilians to leave, according to the BBC.
The UK broadcaster reported later on Friday that the troops had taken back control of the town after a single tank that had been defending the bridge was overcome.
Reuters also reported that Bentiu had fallen, quoting army spokesperson Philip Aguer as saying: “It happened this afternoon (Friday) at 2:30 pm. When you control Bentiu you, control all the oilfields in Unity state.”
Troops are also said to be targeting Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, which like Bentiu is currently under the control of rebel forces nominally loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.
Fighting broke out in South Sudan’s capital Juba in mid-December after President Salva Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup – something the latter has denied.
Feuding quickly spread to other states, forcing the world’s newest nation to shut in about one fifth of its production.
The Juba administration is now looking to wrestle back control of the oilfields after an idea floated to jointly patrol the fields with neighbour and long-time enemy Sudan apparently fell through.
Thousands of people in Bentiu have taken shelter in a United Nations compound while thousands more have already fled the town.
Peace talks got under way in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa recently, but have so far largely proved fruitless, as the parties differ on the issue of political prisoners held by the Juba administration.
South Sudan split from Sudan in July 2011, taking with it three-quarters of the original country’s oil reserves. Khartoum relies heavily on revenues from oil production in South Sudan, which must use its neighbour’s midstream and port infrastructure for exports.