(Reuters) – Rebels said on Wednesday they had seized the South Sudan oil hub of Bentiu as renewed fighting against government troops entered a third day, but the government said it was still in control of the town.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than a million have fled their homes since fighting erupted in December, triggered by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar.
The conflict has disrupted oil production, which provides a big portion of the government’s revenue.
Diplomats and analysts say there could be a surge in fighting as the dry season approaches, after a lull in the rainy season.
“We are now in control of Bentiu, as of this afternoon,” Lul Ruai Koang, the rebels’ spokesman on military affairs, told Reuters in the Ethiopian capital.
Each side blamed the other for the fighting in Bentiu, the capital of the oil-producing Unity State.
Koang said oil facilities in South Sudan’s Upper Nile region could be attacked by the rebels. “Oil installations are a legitimate target,” he added, because they were a source of government funding.
SPLA Army spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer rejected the rebels’ claim to have seized Bentiu.
“That is a lie, after four hours of serious fighting in Bentiu today, at around 4 p.m., our forces have managed to defeat the rebels and Bentiu is under the government control,” he told Reuters in Juba.