South Sudan rebels say have retaken town near border with Ethiopia

NAIROBI (Reuters) – South Sudan’s rebels on Saturday said they
had wrested control of Pagak, their stronghold town near the
country’s border with Ethiopia, from government forces, a day
after launching an offensive to drive them out.

Formerly controlled by the rebels, the town was captured by South
Sudan’s military five days ago but heavy fighting erupted on
Friday with rebels vowing to retake it.

“We took control of Pagak…government forces are not in Pagak,
we have pushed them out,” rebel spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel told
Reuters.

Dickson Gatluak Jock, spokesman for South Sudan’s Vice President,
Taban Deng Gai, denied the military had lost Pagak but said they
had lost three soldiers in the fighting while four were wounded.

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Gai is a former rebel but last year he defected to the government
side and was handed the vice presidency job. His former rebel
forces, who are now part of the government military, are the ones
on the frontline in Pagak.

“We clashed with them (rebels) yesterday in Pagak but we are in
full control of the area,” he said.

Fighting had died down on Saturday, he said, but acknowledged the
rebels “are not very far from our area.”

Pagak is a major town on a road connecting South Sudan to
Ethiopia. Rebel control of the town allows them easy cross-border
movement and smuggling of weapons and other supplies from
Ethiopia. The government is also eager to control it so that it
can block rebel access to resources.

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South Sudan descended into civil war in 2013, only two years
after it won independence, when President Salva Kiir fired his
deputy, Riek Machar, unleashing a conflict that has since
splintered along multiple ethnic lines.

Machar has been under house arrest in South Africa since December
as regional leaders try to bring about an end to the conflict.
The rebels fighting government forces in South Sudan remain loyal
to him.

Jock said the military had killed five rebels during Friday’s
fighting but the insurgents denied the claim.

(Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Stephen Powell)

Read the original article on Reuters. Copyright 2017. Follow Reuters on Twitter.

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