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South Sudan urges release of oil workers kidnapped by rebels 

By Denis Elamu and Daniel Majack JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudanese officials on Monday called for unconditional release of two Indian oil workers kidnapped by rebels last week at Guelguk, home to the Adar oil field in the northern Upper Nile region.

“The transitional unity government (TGoNU) calls for unconditional release of (two) Indian nationals. We will not pay 1 million U.S dollars demanded by the terrorists,” Minister of Information Michael Makuei told journalists in Juba.

According to the government, the abduction took place on March 8, contradicting the SPLA-in Opposition (SPLA-IO) account of March 9, when the two oil workers were captured after heavy fighting between rebels and government troops.

Makuei added that they were seeking the regional body Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which had helped broker the 2015 peace agreement to end conflict, to gazette SPLA-IO as terrorist group.

Meanwhile, Minister of Petroleum Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth disclosed that security at the various oil fields has been beefed up in the aftermath of the kidnapping.

“We are deploying the army (SPLA), national security services and police,” he said.

He added the Indian government told them it would not get involved in the incident and would instead leave it wholly to the South Sudanese government.

South Sudan has aimed to increase its oil production from below 130,000 barrels a day (bpd) to at least over 350,000 bpd.

The war-torn country is facing hyper inflation nearing 800 percent, and yet it relies 98 percent on oil export to finance its fiscal budget.

South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013, following political dispute between president Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar resulting in killing of tens of thousands of people and displacement of more than 2 million.



South Sudan criticizes Japan for ending peacekeeping missions

by Julius Gale  JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- The South Sudanese government on Monday criticized Japan for its decision to pull out its troops from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) after five years of supporting peace and reconstruction efforts in the conflict-ravaged African country.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mawen Makol told Xinhua by phone that the South Sudanese government sees no threat against the Japanese troops in Juba as there is some relative peace in the country.

“The country is getting to normalcy now and this is the time where we are expecting the goodwill of the UN peacekeeping mission here in South Sudan to help until we finally achieve a peaceful settlement and peace in the country,” Makol said.

“People are seeing some relative peace in the country so I do not see any reason for Japan to say the situation in South Sudan is still volatile. So withdrawal is not helpful because this is a time that we need a helping hand from countries like Japan,” he added.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced last week that the country would withdraw the Self-Defense Force (SDF) from UNMISS by the end of May.

Tokyo started contributing a contingent of 350 Ground Self-Defense to the UN mission since 2012 to assist in building infrastructure.

The peacekeeping mission was extended last November for five months, but the Japanese government immediately came under pressure from opposition parties concerning the security situation in the conflict-hit country.


South Sudan army says 23 rebel fighters killed in weekend clashes

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- The South Sudanese army (SPLA) said on Monday that it killed 23 rebel fighters during renewed clashes in northern South Sudan over the weekend.

SPLA Spokesman Lul Ruai Koang told Xinhua that fresh fighting in Yuai area in the newly created Bieh state left at least 23 opposition fighters killed.

“On Sunday, hostile forces loyal to Riek Machar attacked our defensive positions at Yuai in Bieh State. Our forces were able to repulse the attack with heavy causalities. 23 rebel fighters were killed and we also captured some weaponry,” Koang said.

Koang declined to give casualties figures on the side of the government, saying that “the government troops are paying a price to ensure that civilians are not killed and ensure that strategic grounds are not lost.”

He said last week, a senior army officer at the rank of a colonel and four of his body guards were killed in the former Eastern Equatoria state.

South Sudan has been devastated by civil war that broke out in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup. Machar denied the accusation but then mobilized a rebel force.

A peace deal signed in August 2015 led to the formation of a transitional unity government in April, but was again shattered by fresh violence in July, 2016.

Tens of thousands of South Sudanese have been killed, with over 2 million displaced and another 4.6 million left severely food insecure, since December 2013.

Last month, the UN declared localized famine in parts of South Sudan, warning that some 100,000 people, nearly half of the population is in dire need of food aid.



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