A group of armed men, identified as South Sudan Armed Forces (SSAF), claimed to have seized a key military base in Eastern Equatorial state, operated by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), an official army of South Sudan, setting an alarm of the increasingly growing dissidence among the rural populations and politicians taking advantage of the inability of the government institutions to provide protection.
The capture of the base came days after the SSAF claimed to have earlier seized another police post called Idolu, some 35km from the state capital, Torit.
The group in an interview on Tuesday with Sudan Tribune confirmed the responsibility for the attack seen as a new setback for embattled troops loyal to President Salva Kiir.
The attack on the military base took place in Longiro, a remote but strategic village over the weekend, capturing government soldiers and local youth before disarming and freeing some of them.
The fighters of the group, according to a gunman identifying himself as Colonel Mario Bertino, who claimed he was the spokesman of the group, clashed with the government forces on Saturday and Sunday.
“Our forces took full control of Longiro base on Saturday and fought the pro-government forces attempting to attack our forces in our area after 24 hours of fierce clashes, the spokesman of the group, colonel Mario Bertino told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday.
“The Longiro area has now been fully liberated from pro-government forces,” he said, further claiming that at least two companies of his group took part in what he called “short and quick” assault.
The base lies near a major highway running from Torit town to Kapoeta town, a border area with Kenya and is also near the frontier with neighbouring Uganda, which is largely government-controlled territory as it is the home area to Eastern Equatoria state governor, Louis Lobong Lojore.
“This base was one of the main lines of defence for the regime forces. It was a nightmare, because they used it to shell all the areas under our occupation to the east of Torit town,” Bertino claimed.
Their forces, he said, were combing the area in search of remnants of the pro government troops.
He added their forces would likely launch additional attacks in attempt to widen their scope.
South Sudan’s conflict initially seen as a result of political differences about democratic reforms within the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has evolved into a complex, multi-front war that has drawn in several ethnic groups who are fighting either under the loose coalition of the rebel fighters allied to the former vice, Riek Machar or setting up their own separate command in defence of local interest.
Colonel Philip Aguer, spokesperson of the government confirmed the incident on Tuesday to have taken place in the area but described the group as “bandits” involved in “thuggery activities” along the major roads in the country.
Aguer also pointed out that government’s forces were still gathering information about the size of the group and their motives.
Residents and local officials believe the group is based in Komosi area where they clashed with the pro-government troops coming out from Ikotos on Sunday, resulting in the death of at least three government soldiers and the capture of several rifles and ammunition.
The Sunday incident is the latest development on the government-run facilities in what appears to be an attempt by the group to assert their presence in the area and to draw attention from the local population and put pressure on the state government.
The group last week overran a police post in Idolu area which has remained under their control. State officials have not come out to comment on the existence of the group, although some officials in the area admitted that a local police commander and his officers have lost contact with authorities in Torit town, capital of the state and their whereabouts remain unknown.