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South Sudan army retake Fangak from Athor forces -SPLA

By Ngor Arol Garang

February 10, 2011 (KHARTOUM)-The top military command of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army on Thursday said repelled forces loyal to General George Athor from Fangak County, Jonglei State, following a clash between the two armed forces on Wednesday and Thursday in the area.

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SPLA Brig. Gen. Michael Majur, left, and Abraham Thon, center, representative of southern rebel leader Lt. Gen. George Athor are seen at the signing of a ceasefire agreement in Juba, on Jan. 5, 2011. (AP)

Dok James Puok, spokesman of the rebel group in an interview with Sudan Tribune from Juba claimed Wednesday that their forces captured Fangak County from SPLA forces after launching an attack on their operational outposts in three different locations.

General Bol Koang, a SPLA division commander in the area on Thursday said South Sudan army have expulsed forces loyal to General Athor and took control of many areas Athor claimed to have captured on Wednesday.

"Our forces expulsed Athor’s immediately after entering the area yesterday. They never slept in Fangak. They entered without exchanging fire with any armed group because there were no forces in the area".

"There were only three policemen in the town", said General Koang through a language assistant during a telephone interview with Sudan Tribune from Jonglei.

James Maluit Ruei, commissioner of Fangak County also in a separate interview with Sudan Tribune confirmed expulsion of forces loyal to General Athor from the town on Wednesday.

"Forces loyal to General George Athor entered Fangak at around 2:00 PM and were expulsed by the SPLA forces the same day at around 5:00 PM. They did not spend the night in the town", said commissioner Ruei.

Ruei said the SPLA troops on Thursday defeated the insurgents and took the control of the all areas and. But he was unable to provide figures of the casualties at the time of the interview.

"I cannot give you a correct figure now because the fighting is still continuing. I have just talked to General Koang and he told me that his forces are still pursuing forces loyal to General Athor. He did not give me figures of the casualties", he said.

The resumption of hostilities days after the announcement of the referendum results raises concerns and fears for stability in the South Sudan after the independence next July.

Experts underline the crucial need for infrastructure in the underdeveloped and divided region to impose the authority of the new state. The lack of roads prevents the quick deployment of the army and police throughout the South Sudan.

ATHOR DENIES TO BE DEFEATED

Speaking to Sudan Tribune from his base, Athor denied expulsion of his forces but said instructed them to withdraw from the area Wednesday.

"I asked zonal commanders yesterday after I received reports that they entered Fangak to withdraw because we did not have intention to capture it". They were only acting in self defence because it was the SPLA forces which launched an attack on our positions", said Athor confirming that only 4 of his men were killed in today’s attack.

"The SPLA say they have killed 12. This is just a media propaganda. It is not true. We do not have 12 people killed. I have a report indicating that only 3 of our soldiers were lost during the second attack this morning", said General Athor.

BUT SPLA SAYS 12 REBELS KILLED

Colonel Aguer Panyang, SPLA spokesperson in a separate interview reiterated that George Athor’s forces attacked military posts belonging to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Fangak County, Jongeli State yesterday on Wednesday and again today on Thursday, but were expulsed.

He said only four SPLA soldiers were reported killed in the attacked and several others on the side of General Athor.

"At the moment we have reports that 12 men loyal to General Athor were found dead during military surveillance and sentinel search", said SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer.

"This is a clear violation of the ceasefire agreement. Not only did he attack our forces but laid landmines. This is dangerous to the lives of the local population", he stressed.

The military officer said Athor launched another attack in areas around Fangak County in an attempt to retake the town again this morning but ended up being defeated by SPLA forces.

He said SPLA forces stumbled on a landmine laid by Athor’s, resulting into injuries but declined giving details.

ATHOR WANTS PEACE DESPITE ATTACKS

Dok James Puok, spokesperson of General Athor in Juba described Thursday’s clash as one of the "heaviest" clashes but also declined giving any detail of the clash saying he still did not receive full report from the field.

Dok reiterated commitment to pursuing peaceful settlement. "We are committed to settlement this dispute through dialogue not guns. This is why we are here with the authorities. We are seeking peaceful settlement of this conflict".

"The president is also committed to peaceful settlement but there are people whose acts go contrary to directives of the president but we still believe there will be peace", he said.

While the two sides said still collecting figures of the casualties, police authorities in the area said death toll from yesterday and today’s clashes have risen to 65 on both sides.

"A lot of people have been lost. We found a lot of people dead yesterday and again today. "As of now, there are 65 people identified dead from both sides", said policeman who did not want to be named having not been allowed by the policy to speak to the media.

(ST)