Key South Sudan town braces for fresh fighting

from Agence France-Presse
Published on 20 Feb 2014

02/20/2014 10:53 GMT

JUBA, February 20, 2014 (AFP) - South Sudan's key oil hub of Malakal was Thursday bracing for fresh fighting as government troops vowed to wrest back control of the town from rebel fighters.

The country's army spokesman said the town was divided, and that government troops loyal to President Salva Kiir were preparing to try and force out the rebels allied to ex-vice president Riek Machar.

"It is a contested town, and you may expect gunfire at any moment. The SPLA will resolve this mess at any moment," army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP.

The rebels, he alleged, "have killed people in the hospital, have killed people in the church." Thousands of rebels marched into the dusty settlement on Tuesday, in defiance of a ceasefire signed in neighbouring Ethiopia on January 23.

According to reports from independent sources, the town has been left littered with dead bodies and with rebel fighters controlling a part of Malakal, including the airport, and government troops positioned in the south.

Aguer said on Wednesday that government forces were still in charge of Upper Nile state's crucial oil fields.

The unrest in South Sudan, the world's newest nation, has left thousands dead and displaced 873,000 people, including tens of thousands who have crammed into UN bases in fear of ethnic attacks by either President Kiir's Dinka tribe or Machar's Nuer tribe.

The conflict broke out in the capital Juba on December 15 amid tensions within the ruling party, but quickly spread across the country.


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