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South Sudan’s central government lost control of the capital of a key oil-producing state on Sunday, the military said, as renegade forces loyal to a former deputy president seized more territory in fighting that has raised fears of full-blown civil war in the world’s newest country. Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state, is now controlled by a military commander loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, said Col. Philip Aguer, the South Sudanese military spokesman.
“Bentiu is in the hands of a commander who has declared support for Machar,” he said. “Bentiu is not in our hands.” The armed rebels were said to be in control days earlier of some of South Sudan’s oil fields, which have historically been a target for rebel movements, endangering the country’s economic lifeblood.
South Sudan gets nearly 99 percent of its government budget from oil revenues, and the country reportedly earned $1.3 billion in oil sales in just five months this year, according to the London-based watchdog group Global Witness. Although the country’s capital, Juba, is mostly peaceful a week after a dispute among members of the presidential guard triggered violent clashes between military factions, fighting continues as the central government tries to assert authority in the states of Unity and Jonglei.
Bor, the capital of Jonglei, is said to be the scene of some of the fiercest clashes between government troops and rebels. Machar, now a fugitive wanted for his alleged role in what the government insists was an attempted coup last Sunday, has said in interviews that he is interested in negotiations that lead to the president’s exit. He denied involvement in a coup plot. The U.N. Mission in South Sudan said in a statement Sunday that all non-critical staff in Juba are being evacuated to Uganda. The mission said the move was “a precautionary measure to reduce pressures on its limited resources” as it continues to provide assistance and shelter to over 20,000 civilians gathered inside its compounds in Juba, the mission said in a statement Sunday. – SAPA-AP
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