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Tensions within SPLA divisions in South Sudan's oil state

December 20 - 2013 BENTIU

Gunfights broke out last night and this morning in and around Rubkona and Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity State, amid reports of defections of Dinka soldiers from army units in the area.

Mabek Lang, deputy governor of Unity State and himself from the Dinka Pariang area in the north of the state, told Radio Tamazuj that the situation in Rubkona and Bentiu is now under control.

He acknowledged that conflict broke out within army units, started by 8th Division soldiers under the influence of alcohol near Rubkona.

Lang added that the soldiers in both divisions began to divide themselves into different tribal camps in anticipation of clashes. The 4th Division commander then issued a decree for the soldiers to follow orders and discipline was maintained.

Other sources in Bentiu corroborated the report that Dinka and Nuer soldiers had formed into separate camps within the Bentiu barracks area of the SPLA 4th Division.

Apparently also some Dinka soldiers have also left the division and sought refuge at the UN compound or moved elsewhere. UN spokesman Joe Contreras said 27 soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir sought refuge at a UN base near Rubkona.

The state capital is firmly under the control of the 4th Division, but it remains unclear the degree to which the division remains loyal to the South Sudanese president or has been influenced by the defectors led by Riek Machar.

Within the town police have been seen in the streets evacuating Dinka civilians under escort toward the UN compound. According to UN Spokesman Joseph Contreras at least 900 people are sheltering there.

No casualty figure is yet established from the clashes. According to the deputy governor the military and police are making an assessment.

Meanwhile, oil is still flowing in the state, according to the state radio director Mamoun Dieu Kac. He says that some Dinka soldiers of the 4th Division “got nervous and started fighting,” but he describes the situation in Bentiu as quiet as of 2:00 p.m.

He confirmed also that some fighting took place at the market in Rubkona but blamed it on ‘criminals.’ Another local journalist says that the fighting in Rubkona took place between Dinka and Nuer.

He expects the market to reopen on Saturday. There may be some food shortages until then.

Radio Bentiu announced this morning that people should stay home and remain quiet. 

File photo: oil storage facility in Bentiu (Charlton Doki,

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