South Sudan rebels take Bor town after 'coup attempt'

The UN estimates 20,000 people have taken refuge in UN compounds in Juba

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South Sudanese rebels have taken over a key town, the military has said, as fighting continues after Sunday's reported coup attempt.

"Our soldiers have lost control of Bor to the force of Riek Machar," said army spokesman Philip Aguer.

President Salva Kiir has accused Mr Machar, the former vice-president, of plotting a coup - a claim he denies.

The unrest, which began in the capital Juba, has killed some 500 people and sparked fears of widespread conflict.

Analysis

While acknowledging that forces loyal to Riek Machar had taken control of Bor, the army also said Maj-Gen Peter Gadet Yak had mutinied, taking with him some troops.

What is not clear is if troops loyal to Mr Machar are working together with those of Maj-Gen Gadet, or if in fact they are the same soldiers.

But it is likely, because of the history of relations between the two, and because of their background. They are both Nuers, while President Salva Kiir is Dinka.

If the two are indeed in control of Jonglei, it is possible that they might try to overrun the neighbouring oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile.

This will mean the oil-reliant economy could come under their control.

Since independence from Sudan, several rebel groups have taken up arms and one of these is said to have been involved in the capture of Bor.

The United Nations has expressed concern about a possible civil war between the country's two main ethnic groups, the Dinka of Mr Kiir and the Nuer of Mr Machar.

In an interview with Radio France Internationale, Mr Machar called on the army to remove the president.

"We want him to leave, that's it," he told the station.

Mr Machar was sacked by Mr Kiir in July.

The UN has called for political dialogue to end the crisis, and the Ugandan government says its president has been asked by the UN to mediate between the two sides.

A delegation of East African foreign ministers has arrived in Juba to try to mediate in the crisis.

The UN peacekeeping mission says it is sheltering civilians in five state capitals, including Juba, Bor and Bentiu, the main town of the oil-producing state of Unity.

Britain and the US have both sent planes to airlift their nationals out of the country, and a US defence official described the situation as "getting ugly".

A handout photo from Unmiss shows civilians gathering outside the Unmiss compound in Bor Thousands of civilians have sought safety in the UN compound in Bor
 People arrive to seek refuge in the Unmiss compound in Juba, on December 18, 2013. Thousands more have done the same in the capital, Juba
President Salva Kiir wipes his face during a news conference in Juba on December 18, 2013. President Salva Kiir blames his former vice-president for the violence
Locals and foreign nationals gather at Juba International Airport as they wait for flights out of the South Sudanese capital Juba Foreign nationals, and many locals too, are trying to leave the country as fears of a civil war mount

Bor is the capital of Jonglei state, and even before the current unrest, it was seen as one of the most volatile areas of South Sudan.

Profile: Riek Machar

  • Central figure in Sudanese and South Sudanese politics for three decades
  • Member of South Sudan's second-largest ethnic group, the Nuer
  • Was a Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) commander and led a breakaway faction for some years in the 1990s
  • After 2005 peace deal appointed vice-president of interim government, retaining the post after independence in 2011 until his dismissal in July 2013

Overnight there were reports of gun battles in the town, as renegade officers fought with troops still loyal to the president.

President Salva Kiir has blamed the violence on a group of soldiers who support Mr Machar, saying they tried to take power by force on Sunday night.

South Sudan has struggled to achieve a stable government since becoming independent in 2011.

The oil-rich country remains ethnically and politically divided, with many armed groups active.

South Sudan violence, explained in 60 seconds

Map showing oil fieldsd and resources Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
Satellite image showing green south and brown north The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Map showing distribution of ethnic groups Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Map showing distribution of water and sanitation facilities In the Sudanese states of Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In South Sudan, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of South Sudanese have no toilet facilities.
Map showing education levels in South Sudan Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.
Map showing % distribution of food insecurity by state Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan depend on food aid. The UN says about 2.8m people in South Sudan required food aid in 2013.

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