Newspaper article International New York Times

South Sudan Tells of Seizing Rebel Area ; Troops Retake 2 Towns after President Vows to Join Talks with Rival

Newspaper article International New York Times

South Sudan Tells of Seizing Rebel Area ; Troops Retake 2 Towns after President Vows to Join Talks with Rival

Article excerpt

Government troops retook two towns just days after South Sudan's president said that he would hold talks with his rebel opponent, Riek Machar.

Government troops in South Sudan launched a counteroffensive against rebel forces on Sunday to retake two important northern towns, just days after South Sudan's president told the United States that he would hold talks with his rebel opponent.

"Our forces recaptured the town of Nasir in the morning and the town of Bentiu in the afternoon," Col. Philip Aguer, a spokesman for the South Sudanese military, said Sunday. "The rebels are now fleeing toward the Ethiopian border, and our troops are pursuing them." He said he had received some reports of sporadic clashes.

Colonel Aguer said that he did not have any details about casualties but that the government troops were intent on carrying out their mission to provide "protection for all civilians" in the area.

Nasir, which is in Upper Nile State less than 20 miles from South Sudan's border with Ethiopia, had been a stronghold for the rebel forces led by Riek Machar, the country's former vice president.

In Bentiu, the capital of the oil-rich state of Unity, pickup trucks fitted with machine guns led the assault, followed by nearly 2,000 soldiers on foot. As the government forces marched into town, one soldier waved the South Sudanese flag.

Later, after a brief rest, a contingent of soldiers marched near a United Nations base that is providing shelter for 25,000 people displaced by the fighting, a development that made some inside the base uneasy.

"I don't know why they stopped by the base," said Col. Erdenebat Batsuuri, a Mongolian officer in charge of the peacekeeping battalion that is protecting the base. "The base could come under fire."

Hundreds of civilians were killed when rebels took control of Bentiu last month, the United Nations said. The United Nations issued a statement condemning the violence, describing it as an episode of "targeted killings of civilians based on their ethnic origins and nationality." The United Nations also said the rebels used FM radio to broadcast ethnic-based "hate speech" and encouraged "men from one community to commit vengeful sexual violence against women from another community. …

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