Heavy fighting has resumed between rival forces in South Sudan in yet another violation of cessation of hostilities agreement as the two warring parties trade accusations over who was responsible for the new upsurge of violence in the oil-producing Upper Nile state.
- Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) on guard in Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan’s Unity state on 12 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
The fighting in two locations of Doleib Hills, south of the state capital, Malakal, and Achabnil or Zinc comes barely a week after peace talks to end the political crisis mediated by the East African regional bloc (IGAD) was adjourned in Ethiopia.
Speaking to reporters at South Sudan’s army headquarters in Juba, military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said troops belonging to the opposition faction of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM-in-Opposition) under the leadership of the former vice-president Riek Machar launched twin raids on separate locations early on Friday.
“The rebels of Riek Machar today on 10th October, 2014, at 6:00 am launched attacks on the positions of our forces in Doleib hill and Achabanil, as a result the fighting is ongoing in Doleib hill but our forces have repulsed the one on Achabanil. The general command at the general headquarters has communicated this violation to the IGAD monitors,” Aguer told reporters Friday.
He said fighting was still continuing in Doleib hill while the army repulsed the other attack in Achabanil.
Aguer categorically refuted media inquiry whether the government was responsible for the attacks.
“How do we attack ourselves? The rebels are talking to you media who do not know the geography of Upper Nile; who do not know where is Doleib hills, where Al-chap-al-nil and where is Malakal,” he said.
The rebel group has however dismissed Aguer’s version saying their forces were only responding to government’s continuous attacks and heavy artillery shelling which had been going on for a number of days against their defensive positions including relief centers.
“For over a week, our forces have been closely monitoring unusual movement of government troops and equipment in a number of active Fronts. In anticipation of imminent attacks, our combat and combat service support units were put on high alert and defensive measures put in place to thwart any attacks. This morning, government troops under overall command of Sector Commander, Lt. Gen. Johnson Gony Beliu launched coordinated attacks on our defensive lines at Dolieb Hills and Zinc south east of Malakal town, said Brig Lul Ruai Koang in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune on Friday.
Koang further added that in retaliation they overran the areas and their forces were in pursuit of government’s troops who retreated towards the state capital.
“Government troops attacking Dolieb Hills and Zinc fled towards Malakal town with our forces in hot pursuit,” he added.
He said the opposition forces inflicted heavy losses on government troops and captured a number of war equipment including two T-72 Tanks and one Anti-Tank (B10) mounted on Toyota pick-up.
According to him, futile attempts by government to make more territory gains prompted the latest clashes.
“The military leadership of SPLA calls upon IGAD special envoys, the region and international community to condemn government’s intransigence and disregard to efforts geared towards finding a peaceful solution to the ongoing civil war. The latest assaults on our positions confirm government’s strong belief in a military solution. SPLA remains committed to all agreements but reserves the right to fight in self-defence,” he added.
PANIC IN MALAKAL
Local officials and independent sources told Sudan Tribune on Friday that heavy gunfire and explosions were heard around Malakal town, forcing shops to close and residents to stay indoors.
Streets are said to have remained empty with no movement while places which provide essential services in town including restaurants, fuel stations and humanitarian agencies have closed or on standby.
Government soldiers have also placed roadblocks in some parts of the town in anticipation of assault on the town and asked for reinforcements from other locations.
Upper Nile state’s information minister, Peter Hoth Tuach confirmed in an exclusive interview with Sudan Tribune from Malakal that “intense fighting” had erupted in two separate places outside the town and that government troops were moving towards the two areas for reinforcement.
“The rebels have launched an attack on the two places today, one on Doleib hill and the other on Achabnil. The one in Achabanil has already been repulsed by our forces but the fighting in Doleib hill is continuing,” Tuach explained.
He confirmed that situation inside Malakal also became tense as many shops were closed in fear the fighting might reach the town.
“Yes, some of the shops have been closed but others are still opened. The army is out patrolling the town and we have asked people not to panic because the fighting is taking place outside the town,” he said.
Sudan Tribune was unable to independently verify the claims by the rival forces as clashes occurred in places which are inaccessible to non-military personnel, mostly in remote locations.
South Sudan is embroiled in a deadly conflict since mid-December when political debates within the ruling SPLM party turned violent with president Salva Kiir’s government battling against the rebel group led by his former deputy Riek Machar.
The renewed violence jeopardizes the ongoing IGAD mediated peace talks in Ethiopia in order to end the conflict. Both sides reportedly prepare militarily for coordinated full blown civil war.
Tens of thousands of people have died and over 1.5 million displaced for the last nine months.