The South Sudan army said Friday its forces killed more than 50 rebel fighters this week in fresh fighting in the Unity state capital, Bentiu, and Ayod in Jonglei state.
Army spokesman Philip Aguer said three army soldiers were killed and 13 wounded in the fighting, which lasted for several hours on Wednesday. He said rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar started the fighting in both places, but government troops defeated them and were in control of both towns.
But rebel military spokesman James Lony said government forces started the clashes in Ayod and Bentiu, both of which were under control of the opposition forces.
Lony said rebels fighters repulsed government troops from Ayod, capturing two tanks, destroying an unspecified number of artillery-mounted vehicles and killing "many" army soldiers during the fighting. He said the clashes in Bentiu were still ongoing on Friday, but claimed that the rebels had the upper-hand.
The capital of oil-producing Unity state, Bentiu has been the site of fierce battles during 15 months of conflict in South Sudan. The United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, said in January last year, after visiting Bentiu, that the town "simply did not even exist any more."
The latest fighting in Bentiu and Ayod erupted hours after the United Nations Security Council repeated a warning that it will impose sanctions on "senior individuals'' who are deemed "responsible for actions or policies that threaten the peace, security or stability of South Sudan.'' The Security Council also expressed "profound disappointment'' over the failure of President Salva Kiir and Machar to reach a peace deal at talks in Addis Ababa earlier this month.
Two million people have been displaced by 15 months of fighting in South Sudan, and although no official death toll has been released, the International Crisis Group think-tank last year said it believes that at least 50,000 people have died.