March 17, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army (SPLA) said on Monday it had repulsed a rebel attempt to extend their control to other areas outside Malakal, the capital of oil-producing Upper Nile state.
- Soldiers from South Sudan’s army patrol the streets of Malakal in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state on 31 December 2013 (AFP)
Heavy gunfire raged on Monday morning for more than two hours on the outskirts of Malakal between the army and rebel forces from the SPLM-In-Opposition, residents and military officers told Sudan Tribune.
Eyewitnesses said that explosions were heard to the south and west of the town, where the army claimed it repulsed attempts by rebel forces to move out from the town, located about 497km north of the country’s capital, Juba.
“We are fighting the rebel just 3km north-west of the town. They moved out on Sunday, but they were beaten back.” Colonel Philip Aguer, the SPLA spokesman, told Sudan tribune on Monday.
Aguer said that government troops had repulsed similar attacks from rebel forces in Unity state’s Leer county on 14 March, as well as Mankien in Jonglei state.
“The sound of heavy gunfire and what sounds like RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades) began at around 9.15am (local time) and carried [on] until about 10.28 am yesterday,” a resident of Malakal town told Sudan Tribune from the UN camp where thousands are seeking protection.
“The fighting was happening in two different places. Sounds of heavy guns and explosions were coming from the direction pointing south and west of the town. It was not far,” he said.
REBELS DENY ATTACK
The SPLM-In-Opposition, meanwhile, has denied that its forces attacked new positions outside Malakal, accusing the army of launching an attack to recapture the town, which has been under rebel control since 18 February.
Reacting to Aguer, James Gatdet Dak, the spokesperson for former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar, said that government troops had launched an offensive against their forces at Khor Nyingara, located north of Malakal town.
“They were attempting to break that barrier towards Malakal, but were defeated and ran back to Akoka county,” he told Sudan Tribune.
Dak also accused the government of trying to retake control of the strategic oil-rich state capital before a stabilisation force consisting of member countries from the Intergovermental Authority on Development (IGAD) could deploy in the state.
The two warring parties in South Sudan signed a cessation of hostilities agreement on 23 January aimed at ending the three-month-old conflict, which erupted in mid-December last year, although much of the agreement remains unimplemented, with both sides accusing each other of violating the terms of the peace pact.
An estimated 20,000 people have been killed in the violence, which has spread to key strategic towns and areas across the country.
The rebellion was borne out of the political differences within the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the former rebel group that has governed South Sudan since a peace deal in 2005 secured independence six years later.
The conflict initially flared in the capital, Juba, before spreading to Jonglei, as well as the key oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile.
South Sudan relies on oil revenues for nearly 90% of its income.