Fighting has been ongoing in Malakal town of Upper Nile State between government troops and allied militias against forces loyal to SPLA Major General Johnson Olony since Friday.
An officer in Olony’s forces told Radio Tamazuj that the clashes started at Doleib Hill, about 10 kilometres from Malakal town.
He alleged that the fighting erupted when they were attacked by the government forces and allied Dinka in which several soldiers were killed from both sides.
The officer said that the fighting erupted within Malakal itself around 6:00 pm when government troops attacked them at Tarawa residential area in the south of the town.
He added that Olony’s forces attacked Dinka militia allied to the government near the UN base.
There are also reports of SPLA soldiers surrendering to the UN base with guns after intense fighting.
Machar’s rebels deny attacks
Meanwhile, rebels allied to Riek Machar have denied attacking Malakal town in Upper Nile state as fighting continued for a second day.
SPLA-IO spokesperson, Dickson Gatluak, said in a press statement that government forces attacked them at Doleib Hill, an area outside the town, but were defeated.
Government spokesperson, Michael Makuei Lueth, told AFP that rebels attacked Malakal Saturday night assisted by Olony.
“The rebels of Riek Machar have attacked Malakal from all directions, from east, west, north, and south, and the fighting up to now is continuing.”
He said the rebels crossed the Nile which lies to the west.
Olony has defected to Machar’s rebellion
Machar’s spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, told the radio that Major General Johnson Olony has defected to their side and is in control of the Upper Nile state capital of Malakal.
“Our 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,” Gatdet said.
He said Olony’s forces have already captured seven tanks and five trucks mounted with heavy machine guns taking Anakdiar and Kodok areas while “acting in self-defence after government troops attacked them in the southern part of the capital”.
Olony, a commander of a Shilluk armed group who previously rebelled against the government, had remained loyal to Juba throughout the South Sudan Civil War.
His men have been stationed on the west bank of the Nile and clashed with other SPLA forces in Malakal last month.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which monitors ceasefire violations, released a preliminary report today accusing a combined force of Olony’s men and the SPLA-IO of attacking Malakal.
“Shilluk militia forces of General Johnson Olony joined by forces from the SPLM/ SPLA-IO attacked against Government forces in and around Malakal,” IGAD said in a statement, though did not name the commanding officers of either the government or SPLA-IO forces involved.
Juba admits losing Malakal
In his speech broadcast by the state-run South Sudan Television (SSTV), the top army chief told the troops in the capital, Juba, not to be demoralized by the capture of Malakal by the rebels, assuring that the army will recapture it.
“I have a confidence in you [pro government forces] that Malakal will be under our complete control soon. And I want to assure the public through this address not to worry about it and to tell them that it [Malakal] will be in our complete control within day,” General Awan said, generating applauds and singing of war songs.
Military sources also said six officers including a Colonel were killed in Malakal on Saturday when the rebels stormed the town and captured it.
Colonel Philip Aguer, who on Saturday denied having lost Malakal to the rebels, blamed General Olony for establishing contacts with the opposition forces led by former vice president, Riek Machar, while negotiations were ongoing to bring him to Juba.
“He was talking with Taban Deng Gai, Gabriel Tanginye and Khartoum had lifted their wounded soldiers from recent clashes in Malakal. We have credible information and reports that the rebels of Riek Machar have acquired heavy weapons and military equipment from Sudan, including tanks and multiple rocket launchers. This is unacceptable,” Aguer is quoted by Tribune as saying.
Mabior Garang de Mabior, SPLM-IO chairperson for information and public relations committee in a statement dismissed the accusations that both the opposition group and General Olony’s soldiers were joining ranks and file in order to collaborate with Khartoum.