21 September 2014, Nuba Mountains – Fighting has erupted around Renk, a key border town in Upper Nile state. South Sudan says opposition forces supported by the Sudanese government are making a push towards oil fields further south.
According to a source within the government, forces loyal to former Vice President Riak Machar launched attacks on government troops near Agon-Bar, northeast of Renk on September 18. The rebel attack initially forced government troops to withdraw from the area. The South Sudanese troops then counterattacked, forcing the rebels to withdraw toward the Sudanese border.
Renk sits near several oil fields in Upper Nile state, the largest of which is Palouge. The state is responsible for around 80 percent of South Sudan’s oil production. Fighting has since spread to oilfields near Palouge, according to sources in the area.
A Member of Parliament, who is from the region and asked for his name not to be used, accused Sudan of helping to stage the attack. “Machar’s forces came from Sennar State [in Sudan], specifically from south of Mazmum, while another [force] came from Blue Nile State around the Rum and Gulu areas,” he stated.
Another source in Roseiris, Blue Nile State, who choose to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the issue, told Nuba Reports that a large number of South Sudanese opposition troops moved to the northern part of the state Sunday. The source said they traveled aboard 40 four-wheel drive vehicles laden with heavy arms heading northwards towards Sennar State.
The Member of Parliament said South Sudan has intelligence proving that the rebel forces retreated to Jabalein in Sudan, just across the border from Renk. He said rebel forces looted and burned villages during their retreat, forcing around 45,000 civilians to flee. “Machar’s forces bombed and attacked several villages,” he said. “The western part of Renk town is now empty of civilians.”
Speaking over the phone, a Renk resident said that the people remaining in the town are in a state of panic, as fighting moves closer. He said the exodus of civilians started Thursday evening and continued Friday, with people heading south, out of town.
Amna Akech, who fled Renk Friday, said the initial exchange of fire was from a far the area, but there has been explosions near the southeastern parts of Renk.
While confirming the fighting outside Renk, SPLA-In Opposition officials have vehemently denied accusations of support by Sudan. They have also denied being forced out of the area.
SPLA-IO spokesman Lual Roy Kuang said the South Sudanese army initiated the clashes around Renk, and accused Juba of breaking the ceasefire negotiated in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia earlier this month.
Deputy SPLA-IO spokesperson Nargi Roman said the rebel forces have entered Agon Bar and taken control of the three roads leading to and from Renk. He said the battle for Renk was ongoing.
Roman further denied receiving any support from Khartoum, saying the accusations were an attempt by Juba to blame the government’s failings on Sudan.
Sudan and South Sudan have long accused each other of supporting rebels across the north-south border. South Sudan has been particularly vocal about Khartoum’s support for SPLA-IO forces since former Vice President Riak Machar’s visit to the Sudanese capital in July. However, aside from the accusations of the MP, the South Sudanese government has avoided directly accusing Khartoum of supporting SPLA-IO forces in the attack on Renk.
President Kiir and the South Sudanese government have recently tried to improve relations with Khartoum. Many expect Kiir to meet with his counterpart, President Omar al Bashir shortly after his visit to the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York next week. President Kiir’s spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, said President Kiir may raise the allegations of support in that meeting.
The fighting along the border comes after clashes broke out along the border of Upper Nile state in South Sudan and Blue Nile state in Sudan last month. Over the past six months the rebellions in both countries have become increasingly entangled making negotiations over the individual conflicts more difficult.