BEIRUT

Middle East

South Sudan accuses rebels of preparing assault on key town

Residents attend the Sunday Christian mass at Yirol church, South Sudan, on February 16, 2014. TOPSHOTS/AFP PHOTO/FABIO BUCCIARELLI

JUBA: South Sudan's army on Monday accused rebel forces of massing troops and preparing to launch an assault against the strategic northern oil town of Malakal.

The warning of potential renewed heavy fighting came even though the two sides are supposed to be holding to a ceasefire agreement signed in Ethiopia last month and are still engaged in peace talks.

"As we speak today Riek's forces are in a place called Donglei, a distance of eight kilometres (five miles) from Malakal town," army spokesman Philip Aguer told reporters.

The fighting, which erupted on December 15, is between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and renegade soldiers and militia supporting former vice president Riek Machar.

"The SPLA (South Sudan army) in Malakal are expecting the rebels to attack from today or tomorrow," Aguer said, but added that the army "is capable of defending Malakal," the capital of the oil-rich Upper Nile state.

"The SPLA will flush the rebels out," he said, adding that civilians would be free to leave the town if they felt in danger.

The fighting in South Sudan has left thousands dead and displaced close to 900,000 people.

 

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