S. Sudan rebels, army accuse each other of fresh fighting
South Sudan’s army and rebels accused each other of responsibility for fresh fighting Saturday in the north- east despite a peace agreement to end a brutal 20- month civil war.
The renewed clashes came after the pact, brokered by the regional eight-nation IGAD bloc along with the United Nations, the African Union, China, the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States, provided for a permanent cease-fire supposed to enter into force on Saturday.
“Riek Machar’s rebels attacked Malakal yesterday,” Friday, and the “assault on Malakal resumed this (Saturday) morning,” army spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said at a press conference.
“That’s untrue, their forces attacked us near Malakal,” rebel spokesman James Gatdet Dak told AFP, referring to a strategic northeastern town and a gateway to the country’s last remaining major oil fields.
“They wanted to seize the area before the cease-fire comes into effect,” he said.
It was not immediately clear if the cease-fire had entered into force on Saturday afternoon in the world’s newest nation which broke away from Sudan four years ago. Dak said it was supposed to come into effect at midnight (2100 GMT Saturday).
The accord, signed by rebel leader Machar on Aug. 17 and the government only on Wednesday, gave a 72-hour deadline for a permanent cessation of hostilities.
Aguer said the rebels attacked Malakal, the state capital of Upper Nile, overnight “using mortars and machineguns” and resumed shelling on Saturday.
He said one government soldier was wounded, adding: “Though the army is committed to the spirit of peace and welcome the internationally supported peace initiative, (it has) all the rights for self-defense and for protection of Malakal town and the surrounding areas.”
South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings across the country that has split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.
Facing the threat of international sanctions, Kiir finally signed the deal this week but annexed a list of reservations that he said would have to be addressed for the deal to take hold.