March 20, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan denied reports on Thursday alleging rebel forces had recaptured Upper Nile state capital Malakal, one day after government troops took control of the key town.
- Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) sit on a pick-up truck during a patrol in Upper Nile state Malakal on 21 January 2014 (Photo: AFP/Harrison Ngethi)
State governor Simon Kun Puoc told Upper Nile community members in Juba on Thursday that the army had established full control of the town and was pursuing the rebels in different directions east of Malakal.
Rebels confirmed on Wednesday that government troops were in control of the town, saying rebel forces had temporarily pulled back from Malakal.
“Do not listen to lies which are intended to cause confusion by the people who have failed to show they could be any better in this country in any capacity when they were given assignments at different levels. The people who failed this country are now the ones leading rebellion,” Puoc told an audience of predominantly government officials, who had gathered to celebrate the recapture of the administrative headquarters of the strategic oil-rich state.
Reports that rebels had recaptured Malakal began circulating Thursday via various media and social media networks.
However, Upper Nile state information minister Philip Jiben Ogal described the allegations as wishing thinking and unfounded propaganda” spread by opposition forces to undermine the government.
SPLA IN CONTROL
In a joint press conference with presidential spokesperson, Ateny Wek Ateny, the spokesperson for the South Sudanese army (SPLA), Colonel Philip Aguer, said that government forces had established “full control” of Malakal at about 4.30pm (local time) Wednesday.
“Many people have been asking why Malakal exchanged hands many times and whether the same thing will repeat itself. I want to tell you that in the fighting you do not predict what will happen this time. We are telling you what happened. Also the SPLA took time to retake Malakal town not because it was not able to [re]take [it], but [because] we wanted to study the nature of the rebel forces,” Aguer told a contingent of both local and international journalists on Thursday.
The SPLA spokesperson described rebels’ claims to had regained control of the oil-rich capital less than 24 hours after it fell to pro-government forces as the "joke of the day".
"The gallant forces of the SPLA are 100 percent in control of Malakal and its surrounding areas. What the rebels are claiming is not true," Aguer separately told Sudan Tribune by phone.
Malakal has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent months, changing hands several times since political tensions erupted in violence in Juba in mid-December before spreading to other parts of the country.
The conflict has pitted government forces loyal to president Salva Kiir and rebel factions aligned with former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar.
A ceasefire deal signed between the two warring sides on 23 January has failed to stem the violence and there have been increasing reports of atrocities emerging from Malakal, with patients to ill to flee apparently shot dead in their hospital beds during raids on healthcare facilities.
A high-level army delegation under the leadership Northern Bahr el Ghazal governor Paul Malong Awan, a close ally of the president, along with SPLA deputy chief of general staff for operation Lt Gen James Ajonga Mawut Unguec, visited SPLA forces in Malakal town on Thursday.
A military source told Sudan Tribune the official visit was made to boost the morale of troops following the recapture of Malakal, which had been under rebel control since 18 February.
In a statement congratulating SPLA forces, Ramadan Mohamed Abdullah, acting secretary-general of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), said Malakal’s recapture is a clear demonstration of the commitment of the government to protect civilians and properties.