The renewed fighting between the government and rebel forces of recent defected General Olony broke out on Saturday afternoon, June 27, in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile State. It continued overnight until rebels defeated government forces in the strategic oil-pumping town. It was initially unclear how many lives were lost during the clashes.
Rebel spokesman James Gatdet said that Malakal was in the hands of rebels.
According to Gatdet, a joint force of SPLM/A-IO and Aguelek under the overall command of Major General Johnson Olony prised Malakal back from the government.
Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk confirmed the development: The rebels of Riek Machar are in Malakal,” he said, adding that government forces are currently in the outskirts of the settlement and plan to retake the city very soon.
Amid the fighting, many citizens fled to United Nations sites while others went to Paloich and Renk.
Sources in the nearby UN campsite said that the Nuer and Shilluk tribesmen celebrated on Sunday, June 28, indicating that the rebels had taken over at least large parts of Malakal.
At the onset of the 2013 conflict, General Olony fought alongside the government army but he defected last month following the killing of his deputy.
His forces are recruited from his ethnic group – the Shilluk. They are aligned with the main rebel group, SPLA-IO but not formally a part of it.
Olony’s forces briefly took control of Malakal and Malut towns last month after he defected, but then the government forces retook the towns amid heavy fighting.
IGAD ceasefire monitors last week said that Olony’s forces this month had constricted at least 500-1,000 men and boys in the area under his control, including Kodok and Wau Shilluk.
The rebel group has one of its strongholds upriver from Malakal, while the majority of government forces and allied militias in the state is located north around Paloich, to defend the strategic oil fields that sustain the South Sudanese government.