Rebels 'seize' South Sudan military bases

People arrive to seek refuge at the UN compound in South Sudan capital Juba, on December 18, 2013. The mission is stepping up provision of basic health facilities following a failed coup attempt. PHOTO | AFP 

Rebel forces have reportedly seized military bases in South Sudan's Jonglei State.

Commander Peter Gatdet, the head of the military division in the vast and populous state, reportedly switched his loyalty to Riek Machar on Wednesday, seizing control of Panpandiar and Malualchaat military bases in Bor.

A state government minister said Mr Gatdet had taken control of Pakwaw, about 5km away from the Bor town, the capital of Jonglei State.

More than 450 soldiers and civilians have been killed in days of clashes between rival military forces in Juba, after a failed coup attempt in South Sudan, military spokesman Col Philip Aguer said.

Col Aguer said in a statement in Juba Wednesday that hundreds more were wounded in the clashes.

Former Vice-President Machar, who President Salva Kiir accused of plotting the coup, was still at large.

But soldiers loyal to Dr Machar seized three strategic military bases in Jonglei State Wednesday, officials and eyewitnesses said.

South Sudan Red Cross Society (SSRS) confirmed 19 people killed in the overnight gunfire.

"We have seen bodies of 19, but we cannot access areas controlled by Peter Gatdet," said Mr David Gai Deer, the SSRC director in Jonglei.

"The humanitarian situation is bad because most of the displaced people have no shelter, food and access to drinking water," he said.

Civilians caught up in the attack described the harrowing scenes.

Resume flights

"They are shooting now, let me run," one victim said on phone before he hang up.

Sounds of gunfire could be heard in the background.

Mr Gatdet has been an on-and-off rebel fighter. He led a Khartoum-backed militia group during the liberation war.

His group was integrated into the South Sudan army in 2006, after defecting again from Khartoum.

He defected from the army again in 2011 before rejoining months later in 2012.

In Juba, the situation was slowly returning to normal.

The airport opened and at least two planes had managed to take off, an official who is not allowed to speak for the airport authorities, said.

"The situation has normalised in Juba. Businesses we are operating including commercial vehicles," said a journalist who managed to move from the northern part of the capital to the southern edge, across the Juba Bridge.

The UNs' mission said it was already hosting more than 2,000 displaced civilians.

"While the situation seems to be stabilising in Juba, and we can resume flights, there is still some unrest in Bor and a few other locations," according to a message UN officials attribute to the mission's head, Ms Hilde Johnson.

Dr Machar has denied involvement in the alleged coup plot.

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