March 24, 2014 (JUBA) – Fierce clashes occurred Monday between South Sudan government forces and rebels in Upper Nile’s Nasir county, with the former claiming it was advancing to take control of the opposition stronghold.
- Rebel forces pose for a photo in Malakal, the capital of South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, on 4 March 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Andreea Campeanu)
Multiple military sources and local officials within the state administration told Sudan Tribune that government troops were close to Nasir following two days of fierce battles along the way, days after rebels retreated from the state capital, Malakal.
The advancement of government troops on rebel-held areas is reportedly being aided by the use of heavy weapons and air bombardments.
South Sudan army (SPLA) spokesperson Phillip Aguer told journalists that government forces drove rebels back in different directions after capturing Malakal, and were now in “hot pursuit” of the latter.
“The SPLA pushed the rebels into two directions from Malakal. Some have gone to the direction past Adong and between Nyinthar-Malual and Doleib. Our forces fought the last battle in Anakdiar during which the rebels were pushed out past Adong,” Aguer said on Monday.
The military officer also confirmed that another clash took place in Guel Guk, an area located west of Adar oil field, after rebels reportedly fell into an ambush laid by government forces.
“Yesterday (Sunday) evening, the SPLA followed the rebels up and the two forces clashed as they battled for the control of Nasir. They are mounting resistance, but I don’t think they will manage,” he said.
A military source in Adar, however, told Sudan Tribune that the shelling had been ongoing since Saturday.
“The group which we repulsed last on Wednesday has been joined by the two groups which fled Malakal after it was captured by our forces. They regrouped and are attempting to attack our positions. They have started shelling our positions since Saturday and it is continuing,” the source said on Monday.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported hearing sporadic gunfire in Malakal town, as well as near its base. It also observed deployments of SPLA forces in the southern part of the Upper Nile capital and in the barracks north of the town.
REBELS DISMISS ARMY CLAIMS
James Gatdet Dak, the spokesperson of rebel leader Riek Machar, has dismissed allegations government forces were advancing towards Nasir town, describing the claims as “wild propaganda”.
“The latest information we have received from our leadership on the ground indicated that the fighting was still taking place around Malakal in areas of Baliet county,” Dak told Sudan Tribune on Monday evening.
He claimed government forces and their foreign allies were confined to the Makal Shilluk area on the outskirts of Malakal, with rebels putting up stiff resistance in the southern part of the city.
Dak also confirmed that rebel forces had liberated Kaka from government troops loyal to president Salva Kiir.
He claimed that rebel units under the direct command of Brig. Gen. Joseph Chegai Gatluak and Maj. Gen. Gabriel Tangiye respectively had gained control of Kaki-Tujeriah at dawn on Tuesday.
“Our forces were joined in liberating Kaki by defectors from SSDA/M (South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army ) pro-government militia led by Maj. Gen. Ayuk Ogad. More information on casualties, sand equipment destroyed from the attacking forces will follow,” Brig. Gen. Lul Ruai Koang said in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune.
He described army claims that they were advancing onto Nasir as "wishful thinking", saying the allegations were serious deviations from the truth and reality on the ground.