December 29, 2013 (JUBA) - The South Sudan army declared on Sunday that it was in full control of Malakal, the Upper Nile State capital after a fierce battle with rebels.
- South Sudan Vice President James Igga (C) announces to the media the recapture of Malakal town by government forces from the rebels, in the capital Juba December 28, 2013 (REUTERS/James Akena)
The announcement, which could not be independently verified, brings to an end a week-long fight over the town which was partially in control of rebels loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.
Colonel Phillip Aguer, spokesman of the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) said the army had liberated Malakal from ‘‘hooligans.’’
“The situation in Malakal has changed since Friday. You know there were attacks in the SPLA headquarters in Malakal, but it is controlled at the moment. The SPLA forces are pursuing them [rebels] outside the town,” Aguer told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.
The SPLA spokesman said the security situation in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state was not ‘‘very bad’’ adding that government forces were fending off attacks from the rebels who lost control of the town last week.
The political crisis in South Sudan was triggered off two weeks ago when fighting broke out in the barracks among members of the presidential guard in Juba before spreading to residential areas and extending to Bor, the state capital of Jonglei.
Several members who are mainly from the Nuer ethnic group fled to two separate camps of the United Nations in Juba for fear of allegedly being attacked by the Dinka. Meanwhile in Bor, the commander of the SPLA’s 8th division, Peter Gadet Yak and James Kong Chuol, commander of the 4th division in Unity state, switched allegiance to Riek Machar.
The now former SPLA commanders, like Machar, are from the Nuer tribe, the second largest in South Sudan after the Dinka.
Even though the government says Malakal is now under its control, the security situation appears fluid. The whereabouts of the governor, Simon Kun Puoc, remains unknown while some of his cabinet ministers have reportedly fled to a UN camp. Others have fled to their villages and other towns. This followed the defection of the 7th division commander of forces around Malakal.
Despite that, Aguer says the army is in control of Malakal and that the security situation in the country had improved.
“The general security situation in the country except few places where SPLA forces have been forced to defend and protect lives and properties of our civil population is normal. Juba as you all know now is under maximum security control", he said.
"Civilians have started to return in Bor. SPLA forces there are on high alert, given that we have received reports that Dr. Riek Machar has decided to mobilize the ’’white army’’ to launch an attack on Bor. But the situation there is quiet at the moment. It is under full control,” added the army spokesperson.