July 21, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese government claimed on Monday it has taken full control of Nasir, a strategic town located south-east of the Upper Nile state capital, Malakal.
- Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) patrol the streets in the Upper Nile state capital, Malakal, on 21 January 2014 (Photo: AFP/Charles Lomodong)
Upper Nile state governor Simon Kun Puoc told Sudan Tribune on Monday that the South Sudanese army (SPLA) had flushed out rebel forces under the leadership of former vice-president Riek Machar on Monday morning.
Puoc said the town had come under mortar fire, with rival forces managing to penetrate some areas on Sunday morning before eventually being driven back by government forces using heavy machine guns.
Upper Nile is one of two oil-rich states in the country, providing a major source of government revenue, which remains heavily dependent on oil.
Both sides have claimed to be in control of Nasir, with a rebel statement on Sunday claiming its forces had taken control of the town after repulsing government troops.
The opposition forces also claimed to have captured three government tanks and destroyed a number of trucks during the offensive.
In a separate interview with Sudan Tribune, Dak Tap, who was the Nasir county commissioner up until 18 June, also said that rebels had been driven out of the town.
“Actually the rebels never gained full control of the town. They just penetrated some parts on Sunday after crossing into the town from the south of the river,” said Tap, who also revealed that he had been appointed the state minister for physical infrastructure.
His predecessor, Liech Bany, has been named the new county commissioner of the area.
Tap said he remained in close contact with the army and had been following events in the area closely, describing earlier claims that rebels had seized control of the town as “unfounded”.
“It is not true. Our forces have never left the town,” he said.
SPLA spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer told Sudan Tribune in Juba that rebels were shelling Nasir from a distance, but maintained government forces remained in control of the town.
“They (rebels) are shelling the town indiscriminately from the south but our forces are in control,” said Aguer, asserting the attack on the town was a violation of the ceasefire.
“Of course this is a clear violation of the ceasefire which has never been honoured by these rebels and this is what we have been telling the region and the international community all along that Riek Machar is not in control of his forces,” he said.
The South Sudanese government and pro-Machar rebels have been engaged in an armed struggle since political tensions turned violent in mid-December last year.
A 23 January ceasefire deal, recommitted to by the county’s rival leaders in May has failed to curb ongoing violence on the ground.
Rebels claim, however, they were acting in self-defence in order to protect top military commander Maj. Gen. Gathoth Gatkuoth.
AU CONDEMNS ATTACK
Meanwhile, the chairperson of the African union commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, issued a statement on Monday condemning the attack in which an unknown number of people
“The attack is all the more reprehensible as it took place against the background of renewed efforts by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), with the support of the African Union, the United Nations and other member states of the international community, to move forward the peace process,” the statement said.
Dlamini-Zuma said the latest attack was in clear violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement signed by both sides and urged the county’s warring parties to fully comply with the terms of the agreement and immediately return to the negotiating table.
She has called on both parties to respect the integrity of the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM), as well as to guarantee the safety of its monitors, who have been deployed in various locations throughout South Sudan, including Nasir town, to monitor the ceasefire.
The fresh outbreak of violence has also attracted international condemnation, with the UN secretary-general and the United States calling for an immediate end to hostilities.