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South Sudan rebels reiterate calls to evacuate refugees from the border

By Toby Collins

November 15, 2011 (LONDON) – The South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), a rebel group in the new country, urged the UN refugee agency on Tuesday to evacuate 15,000 refugees from the Nuba mountains in north Sudan, who had settled in northern part of Bentiu, the Unity state capital.

Armed men near the north/South Sudan border (AFP/Getty)
Armed men near the north/South Sudan border (AFP/Getty)
In a statement released on Monday, the SSLA state if they are not contacted by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) by 20 November, “Operation Ending Corruption” will begin, with an attack on Benitu on 21 November.

The SSLA said that the UNHCR have ignored their previous statement encouraging them to leave. They claim that the refugees from across the international border in South Kordofan state, are “settled on the path that would be used by the SSLA to attack the town.”

The rebels, who clashed recently with the South Sudan army (SPLA) in Mayom, allege that the governor of Unity state, Taban Deng, has refused to resettle the refugees with the intention of garnering military support from the UN, when they were injured in the crossfire.

The group further accused the governor of misleading the UN, by suggesting that the SSLA do not have the military capacity to take Benitu. They cite their attacks on Mayom on 28 October and Nhial Diew on 30 October as evidence of their strength.

On Monday, the British aid group, Oxfam, announced the withdrawal of its staff working in two locations in Upper Nile state. The move was decided after the first warning was released by the SSLA rebels to the UN and humanitarian groups.

Sudanese refugees who fled the war in South Kordofan are mainly settled in the border states of Upper Nile and Unity.

The Sudanese army bombed a refugee camp in Unity state last week saying it was a camp for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) fighters. Khartoum said the attack occurred within its territory.

However, the UN and journalists in the area confirmed the attack among reports of military build-up in the region near the troubled border between the two countries.

The SPLM-N are fighting the Sudanese army in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

Oxfam’s spokesman in Nairobi, Alan McDonald, told the BBC this week that “the increased insecurity and the increased military presence over the past few days just means that we have to suspend some of our operations because the area is becoming more and more unsafe.”

In a speech delivered at the First Governors Forum on Tuesday, President Salva Kiir Mayadrit accused the rebels of carrying out a proxy war instigated by the Khartoum government.

Salva Kiir said the rebels, besides attacks on the border areas of Gufa and Yida refugee camp, had assaulted the South Sudan army positions in Kuek in Upper Nile where SPLA soldiers repulsed the attack.

He also said the rebels seized a Jeep and three tractors loaded with ammunition after an assault on military positions in Rom.

(ST)

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