South Sudan rebels allied to Riek Machar claim to have shot down a Ugandan helicopter gunship in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile State.
James Gatdet Dak, Machar’s spokesman, said on Sunday that their forces destroyed the helicopter gunship “which came to bomb our troops that have controlled Malakal town since Saturday”.
“It was downed at 4:10pm by our forces under the overall command of Major General Johnson Olony,” Gatdet added.
He said the destroyed gunship was identified as belonging to the Ugandan air force and that the picture of its wreckages will be availed to the public any time soon.
The UPDF spokesman, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, could not be reached to respond to the claims by the time of filing this report.
However, the Ugandan army insists that it is not engaged in combat operations and is only stationed in the capital Juba and Bor in Jonglei State.
In February 2014, rebels said they had shot dead a Ugandan gunship pilot in Lakes state capital Rumbek.
Ugandan People Defence Forces (UPDF) commander, Kayanja Muhanga, dismissed the rebels claims, saying his troops had never operated in Lakes state.
“The UPDF has never operated in Lakes State. The UPDF is only in Bor and Juba. Our helicopters have never gone anywhere apart from these two positions,” Muhanga said.
Ugandan troops were deployed to South Sudan after conflict erupted in mid-December and have been supporting government troops under president Salva Kiir to secure key areas from rebel fighters.
The deployment of Ugandan troops has outraged rebel forces aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar, with UPDF troops accused of violating the terms of a ceasefire arrangement signed between South Sudan’s warring parties last month.
The international community has also urged foreign troops to withdraw, saying Uganda’s military involvement could inflame regional tensions.
Rebels take Malakal
Meanwhile, in a separate release issued yesterday, Gatdet said their forces under the overall command of General Johnson Olony recaptured Upper Nile state’s capital, Malakal, on Saturday from pro-Salva Kiir’s forces.
“We are now in full control of the town and its surroundings. Seven tanks and five trucks mounted with heavy machine guns plus other military equipment were left behind by the forces loyal to Salva Kiir.”
He said they had taken a number of other strategic towns including Anakdiar and Kodok in the state have also been captured in a response codenamed ‘Tongbar Operations.’
South Sudanese army’s chief of general staff, General Paul Malong Awan, while addressing soldiers on Saturday at the military headquarters in Bilpam, admitted that Malakal had fallen under the control of the rebel forces.