South Sudan rebels led by Riek Machar have once again accused Ugandan war planes of bombing their positions in the oil-rich Upper Nile state’s capital, Malakal, last week.
A senior official of the government confirmed to Sudan Tribune that they had carried out air strikes and ground attacks against positions of the rebels to secure the route government hired planes take when landing in Malakal, saying this was to minimize danger to planes passing over rebel-held territories.
“Fighting jets conducted air strikes on the rebel positions west of Malakal airport on Sunday and again Monday. The rebels are occupying the west bank on the other side of the Nile River. The landing aircrafts pass over these places which are occupied by the rebels. To secure the landing of these aircrafts, you must be sure of the safety of the aircrafts, crew members and the passengers,” a national cabinet minister told Sudan Tribune.
The official who defended the activities of the government forces claimed opposition forces were hostile to aircrafts passing over the areas under their territories to land at the airport in town, saying in June, two months ago, the rebels shot at UNMISS aircraft carrying supplies, mistaking it to be government’s hired plane that carried troops to the frontline.
“Last time they shot even at UNMISS plane which has no government officials. From the information we obtained during the clearance, the UNMISs told us it was to be used for normal supplies of non-military items. It was the forces of Johnson Olony and the rebels of Riek Machar which carried out this attack in June. This is the mistake which cannot be allowed to repeat itself if there is a way to do that,” he said in defense of the attacks on rebels.
Work of UPDF war planes?
Machar told Tribune government forces for five consecutive days had attacked their base in violation of the ceasefire.
“Today [Monday last week] around 11:00 am, the government forces launched counter military assaults on our position in Warjuok in Upper Nile state,” the rebel military spokesman, Colonel William Gatjiath Deng, said.
He added: “The heavy shelling started this morning followed by a raid from infantry forces from the SPLA/Juba faction on our bases.”
Deng said the move came after the “two Ugandan helicopter gunships” used by South Sudan government had dropped random explosives and chemicals on their positions in Panyinkang, Tunja and Nyijuat Payam.
In the same week, SPLA marched against rebels on the west bank of the River Nile with helicopter gunships [which rebels claim are UPDF].
Juba also reportedly directed UNMISS not to use the Juba airport in the evening hours in order to allow helicopters to do some exercise.
Colonel Philip Aguer, spokesperson of the South Sudan army (SPLA), said he was not aware of the development and called on the United States and the United Nations to fill the gap created by lack of monitoring mechanisms.
The military officer cited a statement issued by the chief of general staff of the government forces, Paul Malong Awan, as evidence of the commitment of the government forces to observe ceasefire.
Aguer had earlier said on South Sudan TV (SSTV) that government attack helicopters would escort war barges through rebel-controlled Unity and Jonglei states in their movement to Upper Nile state.
Ugandan army spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, has always reiterated that UPDF is not engaged in armed combat and neither is its deployed in Malakal.
Clashes were reported between government troops and rebels in Wunduruba area in Central Equatoria State on Sunday.
SPLA spokesperson, Aguer, denied the clashes and told Radio Tamazuj that the clashes were between the SPLA and a criminal group linked to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by a Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony.
He further said the clashes erupted again on Monday morning and that the SPLA managed to recover two vehicles stolen from citizens by the criminal group along the Maridi road.
He said SPLA forces are still pursuing the LRA group along the Central Equatoria-Western Equatoria borders.
“They behave as if they are terrorists. They are linked to the LRA because they attack innocent civilians and they kill women and children,” he said.
SPLM/A-IO forces claimed that clashes erupted between them and Salva Kiir’s forces in the Wunduruba area.
Separately, Central Equatoria Caretaker Governor Juma Ali Malou told the radio, his government dispatched a convoy to distribute humanitarian assistance to hundreds of people who fled the Wunduruba area toward Lainya County.