Date: Sun, 23 Mar 97 00:40:56 CST>
From: (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Sudan News & Views - 25

/** headlines: 176.0 **/
** Topic: Sudan News & Views - 25 **
** Written 9:22 AM Mar 20, 1997 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 7:46 PM Mar 18, 1997 by in africa.horn */
/* ---------- "Sudan News & Views - 25" ---------- */

Major SPLA Offensive in Southern Sudan

From Sudan News & Views, issue 25, March, 1997.

After several weeks of relative calm on the war fronts in eastern and southern Sudan, renewed fighting had erupted along the Sudanese-Ugandan-Zairean borders in recent days.

The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) led by John Garang, had launched an attack against government forces in southern Sudan, thus opening yet another front, as part of the opposition's overall strategy of its wide-scale offensive, started on Jan. 12 , against Khartoum.

The attacks across the southern border came as no surprise, as it had been widely anticipated in light of NDA statements and promise of opening other fronts in southern and western Sudan, and the government media repeated outcries of a massive military build-up on the southern border and of an impending Ugandan invasion.

The SPLA forces of about 12,000 fighters, backed by tanks and heavy artillery, launched a simultaneous attack, which started at 5 am on Sunday March 9, on Kaya and the Yei-Juba road. In three days of fierce fighting, the SPLA managed to capture the key army garrisons of Kaya, 30 km from the border, Basi, Morobo and Gumuni on the Yei-Juba road, Loka, Lainya and five other military outposts. The headquarters of the National Tobacco Company near Gumuni is also now in SPLA hands.

Yei, the second largest town on Bahr el-Jebel state and a strategically-important garrison town, fell to the SPLA after 2 days of siege. The government tried to parachute supplies to the besieged forces at Yei, but most of it landed into SPLA hands.

With the capture of Yei and Morobo, the SPLA is in control of most of Bahr el-Jebel state, except for Juba, the capital, and Kajo Kaji, in the west bank of the Nile. This leaves Juba in a vulnerable situation as the 100 km stretch of road, from Yei to Juba, is now open to the advancing SPLA forces.

The SPLA said it had destroyed in Kaya, Basi, Morobo and Yei, an army division of about 5 to 6 thousand soldiers, including a Major General and nine Colonels.

More than 2,000 government soldiers who were fleeing to Juba, were ordered by their HQ in Khartoum and Juba to go to Yei (although the HQ knew it had already been captured by the SPLA) to help the situation there. They ran into SPLA hands and half of them were captured or surrendered and the other half killed or fled. This incident is bound to create a lot of discontent within the army.

The SPLA also said it had captured a huge amount of arms including 15 T-55 tanks, six long-range artillery pieces, anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank cannons.

Sudan immediately accused Uganda of launching the attack. The Minister of Culture and Information, al-Tayeb Ibram Khair, however, told state television that the rebels used sophisticated weaponry which indicated foreign involvement. 'Uganda does not posses these sophisticated weapons, nor does it have the ability to launch the attack.' he said. The army spokesman, Lt. Gen. Mohamed al-Sanousi, on the other hand, said 'the military equipment used is definitely America's, so are the rations'.

Although Khartoum denied it had lost any towns to the SPLA and said the army had crushed an attack by Uganda, destroying tanks and causing a large number of casualties, the army spokesman said 'our fighters are courageously fighting the aggressors on all the battle fronts'. Information Minister, El-Tayeb Mohamed Khair denied that Yei fell to the SPLA, but said they had lost contact with its units. President Bashir, on the other hand, told a meeting of retired army officers in Khartoum that the two commanders of Kaya and Lainya were killed defending the towns and that six other senior officers were also killed at Lainya, Loka and Yei. He vowed to recapture 'in the next few days' all areas held by the SPLA and foreign forces.

Uganda denied the charge by Khartoum and in return accused it of violating its air space and bombing northern Uganda. However, Uganda said its troops had sealed the border with Sudan and its senior army commander is in the area to monitor the situation. There are also reports that Ugandan and Sudanese forces had exchanged artillery fire across the tense border on Monday March 10. The loud crossfires were heard in the northeastern Ugandan city of Arua, 80 km south of the border.

Despite the heightened tension and hostilities, Iran's Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Valayati, visited Khartoum to follow up on the Iranian mediation between the two countries. While Sudan's foreign minister, Ali Osman Taha, said that the aggression by Uganda have rendered the talks, due to start in Kampala March 13, impossible, the meeting did take place with Sudan represented by First Under-Secretary at the Foreign Ministry, Ali Abdel Rahman al-Numeiri. The meeting ended into a deadlock, with both parties trading accusations.