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Heavy fighting erupts in W. Bahr el Ghazal’s Mapel town

April 25, 2014 (JUBA) – Heavy gun fire erupted between armed rival fighters in Mapel, a town south-west of South Sudan’s Western Bahr state capital, causing panic among the local population, military sources told Sudan Tribune on Friday.

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An SPLA soldier walks away from a vehicle while on patrol in Juba on 21 December 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

At least 10 gunmen were reportedly killed, while scores sustained injuries as the two sides attempted to gain control of the area. The clash was one of the heaviest ever witnessed in the area since violence erupted in the country late last year.

Eyewitnesses living near the Mapel area, where the clashes took place, said the battle was fierce, with opposing forces reportedly employing the use of different heavy machine guns, including heavy artillery and powerful rocket-propelled grenades.

It remains unclear what sparked the fighting as no official details have been released.

The spokesperson of pro-government forces said he was yet to obtain information about the Mapel incident, while the office of the state governor said it was still reaching out to the division commander and local command for additional information.

“I have no information of what happened in Mapel. I am not aware,” Philip Aguer told Sudan Tribune on Friday, without elaborating further.

Western Bahr el Ghazal’s deputy governor, however, said he had heard about the fierce fighting in Mapel, but was unable to provide more details on the military clashes.

“Yes, I heard there was a fighting this morning in Mapel but there is no official information coming out from the division commander. We are still gathering more details and we will let the public know what happened, hopefully by the end of the day,” Zachariah Garang told Sudan Tribune by phone.

A local administrative officer claimed that a 70-year old man was one of the victims allegedly killed in cold blood by fighters during Friday’s military unrest.

MASSIVE DEFECTION

A military officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the outbreak of fighting, claiming that over 150 soldiers broke away from the military barracks and fled into the bush.

“There was tension since yesterday (Thursday) when two colleagues within the military police exchanged unnecessary words. It started at the bus park area in Mapel town when one soldier refused to take orders from his superior, creating [an] unnecessary situation and raised security concern for civilians in the area but it was contained by the command,” the officer disclosed on Friday.

However, he was unable to reveal the number of people killed from both sides or how many sustained injuries during the melee.

A former deputy governor from Mapel confirmed the outbreak of fighting between rival forces, but was also unable to provide any details on the number of casualties suffered by forces.

“I just heard 10 people have been killed but I don’t know on which side they belong. Also there are reports of four other people wounded, but again I still do not have information on which side they belong. What I have been told by many people is that there was a fighting between soldiers,” Effesio Kon Uguak told Sudan Tribune by phone.

“It has nothing to do with the civilians. It was purely a misunderstanding within the army and ended there,” he added.

South Sudanese president Salva Kiir on Wednesday accused rebels of failing to honour a cessation of hostilities agreement signed between the two sides on 23 January.

(ST)