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South Sudan Opposition Alleges New SPLA Attacks

Rebel fighters hold up their rifles near a brushfire in a rebel-controlled territory in Upper Nile State, South Sudan, Feb. 13, 2014.
Rebel fighters hold up their rifles near a brushfire in a rebel-controlled territory in Upper Nile State, South Sudan, Feb. 13, 2014.

Forces loyal to South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar said Wednesday that government troops launched attacks on several rebel positions in Upper Nile and northern areas of Jonglei states.

Military spokesman for the SPLA in Opposition Lul Ruai Koang said the attacks came a day after the expiration of a two-week deadline for the warring sides to complete details of a power-sharing deal for South Sudan. The deadline was set by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) that is mediating peace talks for South Sudan.

Koang said the attackers were easy to identify by their military uniforms as SPLA soldiers or members of militias loyal to President Salva Kiir. He said rebel forces repulsed the attacks and forced the assailants to withdraw to the western bank of the White Nile River and the northern side of Jonglei Canal. He said the fighting had stopped prior to speaking to South Sudan in Focus. He did not give any casualty figures.

Koang said the attacks by government forces will not dent the rebels' commitment to end the fighting and restore lasting peace in South Sudan. He insisted the rebels acted in self-defense when they came under attack.

"We never violated the cessation of hostilities agreement; it was the government. But, of course, we fought back and they lost the initiative," the opposition spokesman said.

Koang said the attacks were evidence that Juba is not interested in finding a peaceful solution to the almost year-long conflict in South Sudan. He said the government wants to resolve the conflict on the battlefield.

South Sudan army spokesman Philip Aguer said the SPLA was not behind the attacks on rebel positions.

"The SPLA is committed to the cessation of hostilities," he said. If there were attacks on rebel positions, he said they were probably carried out by local militias, not by the SPLA.

"The rebels have been engaged in attacking villages and conducting cattle raids, and it encouraged communal fights," Aguer said. "There is no SPLA soldier that goes contrary to the orders of the commander-in-chief to observe the ceasefire. The SPLA is fully behind regional and international efforts to achieve peace in South Sudan."

A cessation of hostilities agreement that was signed in January has been violated repeatedly. Each time it has been breached, the warring sides have accused each other of starting the fighting.