South Sudanese rebels say in full control of Malakal, army denies
February 19, 2014 (JUBA) – Forces of the SPLM/A In Opposition led by South Sudan’s ex-vice president, Riek Machar are in full control of Malakal, the capital of the oil-rich state of Upper Nile, after two hours of fierce battles on Tuesday morning with the government troops and their foreign allies, rebel sources say.
- Gen. Gathoth Gatkuoth, the over all commander of the rebels forces in Upper Nile state (courtesy photo)
The rebels’ military spokesperson, Brig Lul Ruai Koang, told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday that forces loyal to President Salva Kiir were flushed out from Malakal town and were being pursued towards Akok county.
Malakal, a strategic town located 497km from the South Sudan capital has fallen to the rebels thrice since conflict broke out in the country over two months ago.
Brig. Koang accused the government and its “allies” for provoking the rebels which resulted to the recapture of the state capital.
“The government troops and its allies today in the morning (18th-2-2014) launched unprovoked simultaneous attacks on our defensive positions, 7km south and 5 km east of Malakal town. The attacking forces were repulsed, pursued and flushed out of their last stronghold north of Malakal town,” said Brig Koang.
He further accused the neighbouring Uganda for the military involvement in the battles, saying its jet fighters dropped several bombs on the rebels positions around Malakal.
“While close combat engagements were ongoing, Kiir’s troops received massive air support from Uganda warplanes. Our gallant forces SPLM/SPLA under the direct command of Maj. Gen. Chayuot Manyang and under the overall command of Maj. Gen. Gathoth Gatkuoth are still chasing the remnants of government troops towards Akoka county,” he further claimed.
He however said the rebels were yet to ascertain the number of casualties left on the ground from both sides.
ARMY DISMISSES REBEL CLAIMS
Phillip Aguer, the spokesperson for the army dismissed the rebel claims as “untrue”, adding that fighting was still ongoing in the oil-rich town, but did not elaborate much.
Michael Makuei Lueth, the government spokesperson also denied the rebel claims and instead accused the SPLM/A In Opposition forces of violating a ceasefire agreement they signed with government on 23 January in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“I don’t think the rebels control Malakal. In any case, we would have flushed them out long ago if we never respected the ceasefire agreement”, he told reporters Tuesday.
A source from the state government told Sudan Tribune that the rebels seemed to have improved in their acquired weaponry, revealing that for the first time they posed a direct threat to the tanks used by the government troops, many of which were destroyed in the battles.
The rebels also reiterated their accusations directed towards the Ugandan army, alleging that the “negative role” played by Uganda in the internal South Sudanese conflict was a factor which tempted President Salva Kiir to choose resistance to the political reforms within the south-ruling party.
Ugandan officials have, however, maintained that they were footing for the bills incurred by their troops deployments in South Sudan, arguing that they were trying to prevent the internal fighting from escalating further as well as pursuing their national security interest of ensuring that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) did not resurface in South Sudan.
US EMBASSY CONDEMNS ATTACK
The United States embassy in Juba has condemned the Malakal clashes, describing as a blatant disregard of the cessation of hostilities signed by both the rebels and government.
“The fighting in Malakal endangers the lives of civilians and threatens further instability in Upper Nile State”, it said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
“Armed conflict and violence will not solve this crisis,” it added.
The statement further called on both sides to immediately abide by ceasefire agreement to engage in serious negotiations at the peace talks in Addis Ababa.
“It is of paramount importance for the Government to name and send immediately its representatives to the Joint Technical Committee so that the Monitoring and Verification Teams can begin their work of monitoring the Agreement under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)”, it stressed.
“Continued military conflict will only prolong the violence and worsen the humanitarian crisis that threatens to consume the country”, the embassy added in the release.