South Sudan rival forces trade accusations over ceasefire violations after Pagak’s capture

South Sudan's army soldiers drive in a truck on the frontline in Panakuach, Unity state April 24, 2012. (Reuters Photo)
August 7, 2017 (JUBA) – South Sudanese rival forces on Monday traded accusations in which each side attempted to portray the other as the cause of the military attacks leading to the fall of the rebel headquarters.

The South Sudanese warring parties confirmed Monday the fall of the main rebel stronghold of Pagak near the Ethiopian border by the government forces. The new development raises questions about the unilateral declaration of cessation of hostilities by President Salva Kiir last May. But, Juba recently maintained that they are facing rebel attacks on their positions.

Paul Lam Gabriel, deputy spokesman of the armed opposition fighters said in a statement on Monday that their forces in Pagak were forced to withdraw from the town after government forces launched a ground attack on Sunday supported by air cover using heavy weapons despite the presence of civilians.

“Because of the artillery and bombardments, our forces decided to pull out from Pagak to avoid civilians being caught up in the cross fire. Now the government is controlling Pagak. It was an unprovoked attack, which is a clear violation of the ceasefire they claimed to have declared in May. Now you wonder why the same party which claimed to have issued unilateral ceasefire launched attacks,” asked Lam.

Santo Domic, deputy spokesman of the government forces confirmed the presence of government forces in Pagak, the main rebel-controlled town in Upper Nile region at South Sudan-Ethiopia border.

He claimed the South Sudanese forces responded to an attack carried out on the government held positions in the area by armed opposition SPLA-IO of the former Vice President Riek Machar, resulting in the defeat and subsequent takeover of their headquarters during hot pursuit operations on Sunday.

“When fighting breaks out and one retreats, the other ensures the retreating party is pursued to a point that it would not have the capability to make another comeback,” he said.

“What I want to say here is that our forces were attacked by the rebels of Riek Machar and so they acted in self-defence (operations) during which they pushed them away and – in the process – took over where they used to launch their attacks on the positions of our forces. It was a response to frequent attacks which our forces have been repulsing”, stressed the military spokesperson.

Also, Presidential spokesperson, Ateny Wek Ateny also confirmed the takeover of rebel headquarters by the government forces on Sunday, describing it as “a necessary action” in self-defense.

The governor of Maiwut state, Bol Ruach Rom said in a separate interview with Sudan Tribune that the rebel headquarters is now under the control of the government forces and was preparing to visit the area with congratulatory messages to the government forces and the civilian population.

“The anti-peace elements have been defeated and forced to leave Pagak yesterday on Sunday afternoon because they realized that they could not match the capabilities of our forces”.

“Their decision to leave gives us the opportunity to control and manage our border with the Ethiopia”.

“The takeover of Pagak means a lot to the people of the area. It means that there will be peace and the overall stability returning to the area and to our neighbours”, explained governor Rom, himself a native of the area.