Sudanese rebels said Friday that they were in a better position to capture the key southern town of Juba than at any other time in their 14-year war.
On the front-line around Juba, the Khartoum government army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA, squared off and mounted daily attacks ahead of peace talks in Kenya beginning Oct. 28, rebel officers said.
Khartoum controls a corridor east of Juba through Torit and Kapoeta, holds Tindilo northwest of the city and maintains river access north along the Nile, according to SPLA commanders and aid workers.
Otherwise Juba, an elusive target in the SPLA’s war for greater autonomy in the south, appeared to be surrounded.
Rebel commanders maintain that the government is preparing to launch an offensive to recapture lost ground.
The SPLA, flush from the capture of Yei in March, acknowledges that Juba will be hard to capture because of its heavy defenses and the government’s use of ethnic south Sudanese troops for its defense.
Government forces accidentally killed three of their own soldiers and injured four others earlier this week when an aircraft bombed a prisoner-of-war camp in Yei, 100 miles southwest of Juba.
Bombing of rebel-held territory is a regular occurrence, but aircraft flying at high altitude to avoid antiaircraft fire have no way of targeting positions accurately, residents said.
Yei fell March 13 after an SPLA offensive that started at the Ugandan border post of Kaya. The following day, hundreds of government troops retreating toward Yei were massacred just south of the town, witnesses said.