February 21, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan presidential press secretary said on Friday that government forces had "withdrawn tactically" from Malakal the capital of oil producing Upper Nile state on Wednesday.
- A young woman runs through the street as gunshots ring out a few streets over, in Malakal, Upper Nile state, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. (Photo AP /Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin)
Ateny Wek Ateny, speaking at news conference in Juba, said president Salva Kiir has "instructed delegates" at the stalled peace talks taking place just outside Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to remain at the negotiations.
"Our forces withdrawn from Malakal tactically to southern part of the town,"said Wek.
"I know [this] is the most difficult situation in this is that the rebels attacked Malakal in clear violations to cessation of hostilities," he added.
"Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit instructed our mediators to continue to negotiate peace in Addis Ababa. Although the talks have not resumed on face-to-face, it is clear that the government is still willing to negotiate peace with the rebels," Wek said.
Opposition forces deny triggering the attack on Malakal early this week saying they were merely defending themselves and filled the vacuum left by the South Sudanese army (SPLA) as they retreated.
President Kiir’s spokesperson on Friday reiterated his commitment to finding a peaceful settlement to the 13-week-old conflict, despite rebel threats and activities to seize all oilfields and close down production, should his administration continue to fail to meet their demands.
As a precondition to talks resuming the rebels, led by former vice-president Riek Machar, who Kiir sacked last year, the SPLM/A in Opposition are insisting that the four remaining political detainees in Juba be released and the Ugandan army withdraw from the country.
The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) is being paid by South Sudan to help them combat the rebellion, which began following a dispute within the presidential guards on 15 December.
"The president had instructed the government delegation in Addis to go ahead with the negotiation, despite what happened in Malakal. They have been mandated to do all they can within their capacities to comeback with peace. This is what our people and this is what the president wants. President Salva Kiir has the country in his heart. He wants peace and stability to return to the country as soon as possible" Ateny told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
Ateny said the government has been receiving reports indicating humanitarian challenges are reaching catastrophic levels at the United Nations camp in Malakal, where the internally displaced have reportedly been denied access to water beyond the premises of the United Nations there since yesterday.
"The incoming reports from Malakal are that the internally displaced persons are subjected to the targeted killings based on their ethnicity identities. Women are being raped and the unnecessary killings of everybody, including the elderly, the sick people on the hospital beds, inhuman activities similar to what happened in Bor have repeatedly itself in Malakal. The world knows who are carrying these activities and they are keeping quiet", Ateny said on Friday.
Both sides have been accused of atrocities. During the first days of the conflict members of Machar’s Nuer ethnic group were targeted in the capital Juba by members of the army and security services leading to over 100 arrests.
According to a senior United Nations source the thousands of people who sought shelter at the UN base in the capital would have been killed had they not been allowed into the compound.
Over 700,000 people have been internally displaced and over 150,000 have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries.
Also on 18 February inter-communal clashes flared up within the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Malakal, which is currently hosting 21,568 people.
Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, said on Friday that an UNMISS patrol "observed Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Opposition forces and armed youth on the streets as well as Opposition elements along with some South Sudanese National Police and other uniformed personnel at a former SPLA checkpoint."
The UNMISS patrol counted more than 50 bodies in various parts of Malakal and the town had been looted and appeared to be generally empty of civilians.
"The UN Mission also reported sporadic firing this morning close to its Malakal compound. The Mission says that it responded by moving armoured vehicles to the spot. Two women, who sustained wounds, were admitted to the UN hospital inside the base."
There have also been reports that "a number of people have been killed this week at the Malakal Teaching Hospital, including those who sought shelter at the facility" haq said.
"Access to the hospital is currently restricted due to insecurity in the town and aid agencies have not yet been able to verify the reports first-hand."
The UN secretary-general he said has warned of catastrophic consequences for civilian populations from the renewed clashes in Malakal and urged "all parties to the conflict to respect International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and ensure that civilians are protected."
The presidential spokesperson’s admission that the SPLA has lost control of Malakal contradicts previous government statements claiming that government was still in control of large parts of Malakal and that it was only a matter of time before they would regain complete control.
"The unfortunate situation of Malakal was a tactical withdrawal to avoid unnecessary panic and more death of innocent youth on rampage of Malakal mobilized by the rebels.
The army has been avoiding pursuing the rebels to the villages after capturing Malakal where they mobilized and continue their coming back to the towns, but this time the government will find ways of tracking the rebels from the villages they continue to coerce the innocent youth to the rebellion", Ateny said in a statement he extended to Sudan Tribune adds in part.