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Upper Nile state claims government troops fighting rebels inside Malakal

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February 26, 2014 (JUBA) - Upper Nile state’s information minster Philip Jiben Ogal said on Wednesday that troops loyal to the government have re-entered Malakal town, capital of the state.

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South Sudanese army soldiers sit on a pick up truck during a patrol in Malakal on 21 January 2014 (Photo: AFP/Harrison Ngethi)

Forces aligned to former vice-president Riek Machar, who is leading a two-month-long rebellion against the government, took control of the Upper Nile state capital a week ago. Machar began his rebellion after fighting broke out between the army in Juba in mid-December and he and others were accused of staging an attempted coup.

This has been denied by all the accused but Machar has since assumed control of defections from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states.

Minister Ogal told Sudan Tribune that the SPLA" have entered Malakal town. They are inside Malakal in Maderia fighting the armed elements allied to Riek Machar."

He further claimed that rebels are evacuating their wounded soldiers from Malakal Teaching hospital to Nasir County, saying it is an indication that government troops would “soon” be back in control the town.

"I am speaking to you from inside Malakal town now. Our SPLA forces are advancing from different directions into the town. The rebels are now on the run towards Nasir", he said.

REBEL DENIAL

However, James Gatdet Dak, the spokesperson for the opposition leader, Riek Machar, said government’s claims are not true.

"There is no fighting between any parties inside Malakal town. The state capital is fully under our control and has been calm since Tuesday last week when our forces recaptured it from pro-Kiir soldiers," he said, adding that the government official was fabricating the story from nowhere.

"When did the state information minister return to Malakal? I believe he could be fabricating the story somewhere in the bushes, but not certainly in Malakal town, unless he is hiding indoors," Dak stressed.

He further added that government forces and their foreign allies were nowhere to be seen in or around Malakal, saying they were being pursued and consequently lost Akoko county, which is 80km away north of the town.

Minister Ogal, on the other hand, accused rebels of looting and arson while they occupied the town.

He also denied claims that rebel forces were heading towards Upper Nile’s oil fields.

"How can they go to the oil field when they are engaged in the fight?" he said.

The state minister said that the rebels are leaving Malakal and retreating to Nasir and Maiwut counties which they still control.

Around 10,000 people are estimated to have died in the conflict and over 700,000 people internally displaced.

Meanwhile, Maban county commissioner, James Basha, said his areas has been overwhelmed with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in addition to the refugees from the conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile in neighbouring Sudan.

Basha said fighting took place in Guel Guk on Monday, some 30 kilometres south of Adar, one of country’s main oil fields, displacing more civilians to the area.

"The fighting which started in Guel Guk between the rebels belonging to the forces of Riek Machar and our forces SPLA is the cause of this mass movement of civilians", Basha said.

Commissioner Basha said he expects more displaced people to arrive from Paloich where, he said, tension has been building due to fears that the rebels were regrouping to launch another attack.

Sounds of heavy gunfire were heard from the Melut area on Wednesday morning, he said, explaining it was not clear whether it was gunfire due to an armed confrontation.

Melut is situated west of Paloich; an oil processing facility, which many in Upper Nile believe to be the next target for the rebels.

Melut town remains under government control, with some SPLA soldiers present in the area. Most of the people have little or no food, according to government officials who spoke to Sudan Tribune in a series of interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Elsewhere in Upper Nile, the security situation in Fashoda county, an area exclusively inhibited by the Shilluk ethnic group, is reportedly relatively calm despite the huge number of displaced people from Malakal, some of whom are reportedly considering crossing the border into neighbouring Sudan.

In Upper Nile’s northernmost town Renk there were reports of shooting from the west across the river on Monday morning.

The cause of the shooting was not clear, although officials from the area claimed that Manyo County on the opposite bank has been contested since the start of the conflict in December.

Renk county presently remains under government control.

(ST)

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