Juba, South Sudan | AFP | South Sudanese rebels on Friday claimed responsibility for an ambush that killed at least 15 people on the main road between the capital and the Ugandan border.
In a statement, Lam Paul Gabriel, spokesman for the SPLA-IO rebel group led by exiled former vice president Riek Machar, said; “The SPLA-IO would like to make it clear that the ambush on the Nimule-Juba highway was carried out by its forces.”
He added that Thursday’s attack was “our response to the constant attacks on our bases” as well as the “false claim” that rebels had agreed to join national dialogue with the government of President Salva Kiir to end the more than three-year-long civil war.
Gabriel claimed the ambush destroyed four military vehicles and nine private ones and killed more than 40 people including civilians “caught in crossfire” .
He said the SPLA-IO “regrets” the civilian deaths but added that people should not travel by road with military escorts.
South Sudan army spokesman Santo Domic called the ambush a “provocation” aimed at drawing government forces into a fresh offensive.
Police spokesman Daniel Justine said 15 people were killed in the attack, including 10 soldiers, one of whom was a colonel.
The convoy of as many as 30 vehicles — including passenger buses — was attacked while heading to Juba from the border town of Nimule. It was the second ambush this week on the same road, after an attack on Monday left one dead and four injured.
The dangerous highway is nevertheless a lifeline for South Sudan, which imports almost everything, and for people fleeing the more than three-year-long civil war for the safety of refugee camps in Uganda.
Since the government began deploying military escorts for convoys using the road in January there have been at least four separate deadly attacks, but this is the first time rebels have claimed responsibility.