Rebels loyal to South Sudan’s former Vice President Riek Machar say they have captured the major oil town of Malakal after three days of fighting with government forces.
Moses Ruai Lat, spokesman for the Unity State Military Interim Government - or the rebels loyal to Machar and opposed to President Salva Kiir - said on Friday, “The whole of Malakal is under the control of our forces. It was cleared yesterday evening.”
“All those forces who are loyal to the president have been cleared and the former governor of Upper Nile, Simon Kun Poch, is on the run,” he added.
However, South Sudanese Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk rejected the claim as “disinformation” and said, “The elements loyal to Riek Machar were defeated and they are no longer in Malakal. The town is under full government control.”
He added that the government forces - Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) - were increasing their presence in the town, which is the capital of Upper Nile State in the northeast and one of South Sudan’s key oil-producing areas.
The comments came after on Thursday South Sudan’s army spokesman Philip Aguer said the key town was divided into two, with the rebels controlling the southern part and government troops controlling the north.
Rebel forces are also in control of Bentiu, capital of the oil-rich Unity State, but the government says its troops are advancing on the town.
The fighting began in South Sudan on December 15 after President Kiir accused Machar of attempting to stage a coup.
Machar dismissed the accusation and said that the president was taking advantage of a clash between members of the military as an excuse to carry out a purge.