April 10, 2014 (JUBA) – Troops loyal to the South Sudanese government denied on Thursday that they have been defeated by fighters allied to the former vice-president Riek Machar in Upper Nile state’s Manyo county, saying their withdrawal from the area was a tactical decision.
- Soldiers from the South Sudan army (SPLA) patrol the streets in the Upper Nile state capital, Malakal, on 21 January 2014 (Photo: AFP/Charles Lomodong)
A rebel statement issued on Thursday, which bears the name of Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang, claims a commanding officer from government forces with the rank of major was killed during the fighting.
Spokesperson for the South Sudanese army (SPLA) Colonel Philip Aguer said the decision was taken to avoid civilian casualties and further damage to infrastructure in the Kaka Tajaria area.
The military officer stressed tactical withdrawal is an act usually taken on the advice of senior military command for strategic reasons.
“Tactical withdrawal in the military context does not mean defeat. It is usually taken for strategic reasons,” Aguer told reporters on Thursday, without elaborating further.
In the statement issued by the rebel group, a spokesperson said forces under the direct command of Brigadier General Chegai Gatluak had liberated Manyo county from forces loyal to president to Salva Kiir.
He said attacking forces had driven back the SPLA to Detuok, Akurawa and Dila-Ajack between the 6 and 8 April.
In the final battle for control of Manyo on 9 April, rebel forces said they destroyed one Urol truck mounted with Soviet anti-aircraft weaponry and seized four lorries and one Toyota land cruiser.
Political tensions in South Sudan erupted in violence in mid-December last year in the capital, Juba, before spreading to other key areas.
The conflict has pitted forces loyal to the government against rebels aligned with Kiir’s former deputy, who was sacked from his position last July.
Oil-rich Upper Nile has been the scene of heavy fighting, with the capital, Malakal, changing hands several times throughout the conflict.