Amid days of fighting in Malakal, South Sudan, the Upper Nile State Government says tensions flared after a joint attack on government forces by troops loyal to General Johnson Olony Thubo and the rebel leader and former South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar.
Speaking from Melut County, Information Minister Peter Hoth Tuach said that fighting began on Friday evening at Doleib Hill, a Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) garrison south of Malakal and that it later spread to Malakal.
We have been telling our people from time to time that Olony is a rebel.”Tuach said that General Olony has rebelled against the government and has cooperated with the forces under the rebel command of General Gabriel Gatwec Chan (aka Tanginyae) to capture Malakal from the government forces.
We have been telling our people from time to time that Olony is a rebel but there has been nobody who could listen to the voices from the ground. This fighting proves that Olony is a rebel and is not with us,” he said. He has decided to fight against the SPLA and this has been his long term mission.”
However, he insisted that Malakal is not under rebel control. Yes there is fighting and intensified confrontation in town but our SPLA forces are the ones controlling the town. Our commander on the ground, General Peter Baaw is now in control of the town. Some media outlets are reporting things out of context,” Tuach said over the weekend.
But on Monday, May 18, Army Spokesman Philip Aguer said that Malakal was seized by Olony and Machar’s forces over the weekend. Aguer added that fighting is ongoing and that it is only a matter of time until the SPLA will retake Malakal. He further said that the rebels are backed by military intelligence from Sudan.
Fighting started in Malakal town on April 21, when bodyguards of Upper Nile Governor Simon Kun Puoch clashed with those of General Johnson Olony, who eventually captured Malakal and controlled it for about three days before government forces took control again.
General Johnson Olony Thubo is a former militia commander. He fought against the government of South Sudan until 2013 when the group responded to the general amnesty decreed by President Kiir to forces fighting against his goverment.
Since the beginning of the conflict in late 2013, Olony has been fighting alongside government forces against the opposition fighters of Riek Machar.
However, during last three weeks Olony has denied reports claiming that he was rebelling against the government. The SPLA general Military headquarters had also said that Olony had remained in contact.
But Tuach explained that this was no longer the case: I have talked to military concern officers and they have admitted that they are not in contact any longer with Olony, meaning he has rebelled.”
The Upper Nile State Government recently relocated its capital to Melut County due to the intense clashes. It is not the first time state government has shifted the location of its base. Last year Governor Simon Kun Puoc relocated the capital to Renk in the north due to the continuous fighting in Malakal between SPLA-IO and government forces.