Former vice president accused of last week’s coup attempt, that he wants to be country’s next leader.
World leaders have stepped up efforts to pull South Sudan back from the brink of an all-out civil war, as fighting raged across the country including in a key oil-producing region.
Special envoys from the United States and Nigeria were flying into the capital Juba on Sunday, following on from a mission by foreign ministers from east Africa and after an appeal for an end to the violence from United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon.
Fighting has been raging in South Sudan for a week, after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup. Machar has denied this, and has accused Kiir of carrying out a vicious purge of his rivals.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Sunday, Machar said he wants to be the next leader of the country – to run for president at the next election in 2015. He said that President Kiir should step down.
He also said his troops are now in control of Bentiu, the capital city of the oil rich Unity state where a military government has been established.
The fighting has left hundreds dead and sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for protection in UN bases or to safer areas of the country, which only won independence from Sudan in 2011 but has been blighted by ethnic divisions, corruption and poverty.
Toby Lanzer, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, tweeted from the UN base in the hotspot city of Bor in Jonglei State on Sunday that there were over 15,000 people sheltering there.
“Things are changing by the hour,” he tweeted. “We are under intense pressure here, as are other locations in Jonglei. Massive setback for South Sudan.”
The fighting has both ethnic and political dimensions, as troops loyal to Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, battle forces backing Machar, a Nuer.
Foreign governments, including those of the US, Britain, Uganda and Kenya, have been organising special evacuation flights to pull out their nationals. The US State Department said on Sunday it has safely evacuated American citizens and some other nationals from Bor by helicopter, in coordination with the UN and South Sudanese government.
On Saturday four US servicemen were wounded when their planes were fired at in a rebel-held area.
The attack underlined the increasingly dangerous situation in the country, where at least one UN base has also come under attack in recent days – with the deaths of two Indian peacekeepers and possibly dozens of civilians.
President Barack Obama has warned against continued fighting.
“Any effort to seize power through the use of military force will result in the end of longstanding support from the United States and the international community,” the White House said.
Government loses territory
South Sudan’s government meanwhile acknowledged that much of Unity State, the country’s main oil-producing area, was in the hands of the rebels.
Machar denies government suggestions that rebels have been forced out of Bor, which is situated about 200 kilometres north of Juba, although South Sudan’s army spokesman said government troops were advancing.
A local official in Bentiu – the rebel-held capital of Unity State – said the area was littered with bodies following the fall of the town, which was prompted by the defection of a top government commander.
“There are so many bodies, over a hundred not yet buried,” the local official, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
Army spokesman Aguer confirmed that “Unity State is currently divided, with the SPLA and the loyalists to the government on one side and those who are supporting Riek Machar on the other.”
“We are not in control of Bentiu and we don’t know how many people are wounded and how many people are killed,” Aguer said.
Source : Al jazeera