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Sudan Tribune

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Heavy fighting erupts in Sudan’s Malakal between SPLA and Athor’s forces

March 12, 2011 (JUBA) – Heavy fighting has erupted inside Malakal town, Upper Nile state’s capital, between the SPLA forces and the forces loyal to renegade General George Athor Deng.

FILE - In this photo released by the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers parade during the fourth anniversary celebration of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, ending more than two decades of civil war, in Malakal, southern Sudan, Friday, Jan. 9, 2009 (AP)
FILE – In this photo released by the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers parade during the fourth anniversary celebration of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, ending more than two decades of civil war, in Malakal, southern Sudan, Friday, Jan. 9, 2009 (AP)
The fighting broke out today at 3:00am in the early hours of Saturday.

Eyewitnesses inside the town told Sudan Tribune the fighting continued till 8:00am around the airport and SPLA barracks. The SPLA is the official army of South Sudan, from which Athor split last year.

Athor’s forces were reported to have penetrated Malakal town under the command of one of his deputies, Oliny, who a few days ago clashed with the SPLA forces in Shilluk villages outside the state capital.

Lam Both, the Upper Nile state information minister confirmed the clashes, but said it was still difficult to know the actual numbers of casualties resulting from the incident.

“As we speak now, fighting is still going on in some parts of Malakal. But until an assessment is done, it’s difficult to know how many people were killed or injured from both sides,” Lam said by phone from Malakal.

In a separate interview with Sudan Tribune, Phillip Panyang Aguer, the SPLA spokesman also confirmed the early morning incident, but insisted that the army managed to repel the militias out of the Upper Nile state capital.

Aguer, like the Upper Nile state information minister, remained cagey on those killed or injured in the incident preferring to release more information later.

Athor was one of the senior SPLA zonal commanders operating between three states of Greater Upper Nile during the over two decades long of civil war between the North and South, which came to end following the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Athor contested the 2010 April general elections as an independent candidate for governorship of Jonglei, after he failed to secure the approval of his candidature by the SPLM Political Bureau, the highest political organ in the SPLM structure. Armed individuals loyal to Athor at the SPLA base, close to his home county of Khorfulus in Doleib Hill, staged a protest resulting in a rebellion, after the National Elections Commission announced results in favour of the official nominee, incumbent Governor, Kuol Manyang Juuk.

Armed elements loyal to him have clashed several times with forces belonging to the SPLA since he rebelled, resulting in a number of deaths on both sides.

However, South Sudan president General Salva Kiir Mayardit, in October issued a presidential order pardoning Athor and his forces. Additionally, the president issued another decree forming a high level committee comprising of two bishops and armed generals to discuss ways forward to end conflict in the area with General Athor.

The recent wave of fighting in Abyei, Jonglei and Malakal casts doubt over the stability of South Sudan which will officially become independent in July.

(ST)