South Sudan’s civil war has erupted along the border of Sudan’s Blue Nile State, pinning nearly 150,000 refugees between South Sudan government and rebel forces in the widening conflict.
The fighting, which continued into the night August 4, threatens to drag Sudanese SPLA-N rebels in Blue Nile into the Southern war, once again uniting the two Sudans in conflict.
At least five civilians were killed and 30 injured in running battles Monday between the government allied forces and forces loyal to former South Sudanese Vice President Riak Machar.
A Nuba Reports journalist said around 300 members of the White Army – an ethnic Nuer Militia – have surrounded Bunj and moved towards the border of Blue Nile State.
The assault on Bunj followed a skirmish 20 kilometers south, in the village of Liank. At around 6:30 on the morning of August 3, a force of around 25 ethnically Nuer soldiers defected from the government-controlled SPLA. The defectors were then ambushed by a government-allied militia calling itself the Maban Defence Force. The defecting soldiers managed to kill at least two of the militia and injure seven more in the clash.
Later the same day, residents of Bunj reported that three shells hit the marketplace. Residents also reported members of the Maban Defense Force searching the town for Nuer civilians.
One humanitarian worker was killed by the militia the morning of August 4, according to a statement released by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. “UNMISS has no military or police presence in Bunj and is concerned about the safety of the United Nations personnel, staff of humanitarian organizations and civilians who have taken refuge in the compounds of United Nations agencies since the violence started yesterday,” said spokesman Joe Contreras.
The fighting has driven the entire population of Maban capital, Bunj, into nearby refugee camps, where victims of a completely separate civil war have sought shelter. The fighting nearby threatens to merge the two into a single, multidimensional regional war mirroring the conflict that engulfed much of united Sudan during its deadly 23 year conflict.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has accused Khartoum of supplying forces loyal to former Vice President Riak Machar in his fight against the government. The accusations mirror events in 1991 – during the civil war that saw South Sudan split from the North – when Machar split with southern rebels and began to receive supplies from Khartoum. Like last time – both Machar and Sudan deny allegations of support.
While South Sudan’s civil war rages, rebels in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states – along the South Sudanese border – are fighting wars against Khartoum. Allied to South Sudan during the 23-year Sudanese Civil War, the rebel SPLM-N controls pieces of each state, including parts of the disputed border with the South.
The rebels have yet to take a side in the South Sudanese conflict, but many observers fear they could be drawn in. Forces loyal to former Vice President Machar were recently expelled from their stronghold in Nasir, not far from the borders of Ethiopia and Blue Nile. Nuba Reports has received information that some of the rebel forces are moving into Blue Nile.
It is unclear how the rebel SPLA-N will respond if the war spreads into their territory. Spokesperson Arnu Ngtullu Lodi would not comment about the southern conflict when asked. But if the conflict manages to entangle the northern rebels, it could yet again bring Khartoum and Juba face to face.