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South Sudan rival forces give conflicting statements over Pagak’s control

Sudan People's Liberation Army soldiers walk along a road near Bor, on January 31, 2014 (AFP Photo)
August 11, 2017 (JUBA)- The government forces and rebel fighters loyal to the exiled former First Vice President Riek Machar have clashed on Friday morning in Pagak town, causing panic and security concerns in the area, among conflicting reports from both sides.

Pagak served between 2014 and 2016 as the headquarters of the overall leadership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement In Opposition (SPLM-IO) before splitting into two separate factions led by Riek Machar and another by Taban Deng Gai following the departure of Machar in Juba after the July 2016 clashes.

Taban subsequently replaced Machar in his roles and became the new first vice president, dividing opposition leadership into two camps but Pagak continued to remain under the control of the fighters allied to Machar until on Sunday, August 5th, 2017 when government forces regained control of the border town.

Speaking to Sudan Tribune on Friday, the Governor of Maiwut state said armed opposition fighters attempted twice on Friday morning and in the afternoon to return to the town but were repulsed by the government forces.

"The anti-peace elements attempted a comeback attack today but they were repulsed by our forces. The first attempt was in the morning at around 05:00 am (local time) and another attempt was around 12: pm (local time)," Maiwut state governor Bol Ruach Rom told Sudan Tribune by telephone on Friday.

Also, Maiwut state parliamentary Speaker Choul Dep Kiir told Sudan Tribune in a separate telephone call that the SPLM-IO fighters attempted to return to the headquarters but were repulsed.

“SPLA- IO forces of Riek Machar attacked the SPLA forces in Pagak this morning. The IO forces attacked the town through two directions. Through Pinythor eastern part of the town and Way station western part of the town but the IO forces were defeated badly by SPLA gallant forces,” said Speaker Kiir.

For his part, The deputy SPLA-IO military spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel confirmed the attack on Pagak, claiming to have gained control of the town from the government forces during the operation.

“The whole areas of the headquarters, Pagak is freed and secured as usual. General Ochan Puot came with peace for peace lovers,” said Gabriel.

"That fake governor with his few supporters (have) turned refugees early this morning and the whole State of Adar is freed from government mercenaries,” he added.

Gabriel claimed the clashes which took place on Friday morning and afternoon rocked Pagak as their troops launched a surprise assault on government forces in order to regain their main headquarters.

“We attacked the area in the morning and clashes are still ongoing. The government forces are withdrawing from Pagak,” he said.

However, the spokesman of the armed opposition faction loyal to Taban Deng Gai, first vice president in the unity government denied that Pagak has fallen to the faction allied to Machar.

“Pagak came under heavy fire in the early hours today. At 5:00, SPLA-IO forces came under heavy fire from anti peace elements in the border town of Pagak. The attackers came through Yuayding and Tolong swarm areas but SPLA-IO struck back in self Defence to end the assault,".

He added that their forces managed to repel the assailants and pursued them fleeing towards Turuw and Orieng.

"Their main aim was to drive out our forces from the strategic town of Pagak which will never and ever happen,” denied Col Dickson Gatluak in a separate statement.