December 23, 2013 - 09:56 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - South Sudan's central government lost control of the capital of a key oil-producing state as renegade forces seized more territory in fighting that has raised fears of full-blown civil war in the world's newest country, Belfast Telegraph reported.
Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity state, was now controlled by a military commander loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, said South Sudanese military spokesman Col Philip Aguer . "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% of its government budget from oil revenues and the country reportedly earned 1.3 billion dollars in oil sales in just five months this year, according to 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.
Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan's information minister, said Machar was believed to be hiding somewhere in Unity state.
"He is a rebel, he's a renegade and we are looking for him. He's moving in the bushes of South Sudan," he said.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan said all non-critical staff members in Juba were being evacuated to Uganda. in "a precautionary measure to reduce pressures on its limited resources" as it continued to provide assistance and shelter to more than 20,000 civilians gathered inside its compounds in Juba.
Hilde Johnson, the UN secretary general's envoy in South Sudan, said the evacuation did not mean the UN was "abandoning" South Sudan.
"We are here to stay, and will carry on in our collective resolve to work with and for the people of South Sudan," she said. "To anyone who wants to threaten us, attack us or put obstacles in our way, our message remains loud and clear: we will not be intimidated."