Fighting for almost a month in defense of their strongholds, South Sudan’s rebels, the SPLM/A in Opposition tactically withdrew from Pagak headquarters on Sunday evening, according to the spokesmen, however, the rebels claim to have retaken both Pagak and Maiwut within the last 24 hours.
“Sincerely, we were attacked by the government forces yesterday in Pagak, so we clashed but we decided to withdraw from Pagak.” Said Col Lam Paul Gabriel.
Lam believes that their forces withdrew because the violent bombardment by government forces on their stronghold was unbearable and thus they decided to allow them in briefly, a report that was also echoed by Taban’s SPLA-IO faction.
“The artillery and bombardments were very heavy, and there were civilians” Lam added.
“Stores of artilleries Shells set on Fire in Pagak. Nearly 5:30 Pm, the huge stores full of mortar shells are set on fire in Pagak by armed groups under Dr.Machar. About 3 stores full of artilleries Shell are now intentionally set on fire and the rebels under Riek Machar are soly responsible for any loss of life and colaterol damage cause by mortar shells.” Said Dickson Gatluak.
Responding to reports on Pagak yesterday, Lt. General Wesley Welebe Samson, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training for SPLA in Opposition, pledged that SPLA-IO will fight on despite losing its stronghold.
“The government must know that we are rebels and in all bushes of South Sudan and will continue to fight till there is a regime change in Juba or a peaceful political settlement of the problems through negotiations.” Said Lt. General Wesley Welebe Samson
Latest reports from Jikow reiterated that fighting resumed this morning in Pagak after the rebels captured Maiwut yesterday.
According to eyewitnesses, SPLA-IO recaptured Pagak this morning and government troops withdrew towards Ethiopian border.
The reports received by Nyamilepedia alleged that the last heavy fighting took place today at Jikow Bridge at the Ethiopia Border as Government troops who were dislodged from Pagak tried to cross into Ethiopia.
“A very heavy fighting took place now at the Bridge[Jikow], government soldiers are running to Gambella. They lost control of Pagak” Said Peter Yien, an UNGO worker.
According to Yien, who spoke from his hide-out in Jikow, SPLA-IO received a large reinforcement this morning. The troops whom he estimated to be more than 10, 000 were led by Gen. Ochan Puot who returned from fighting in Maiwut.
“Gen. Ochan Puot arrived at 5 Am this morning. He came from Maiwut with 11, 000 soldiers who fought and restored Maiwut yesterday.” He Continued.
The eye witness alleged that the government troops surrendered their weapons at the border and also left their vehicles behind.
According to SPLA-IO reports extended to Nyamilepedia, most of the rebels troops went to front lines and other joined the fighting in Maiwut when their headquarters came under surprise attack by the government troops. To minimize casualties, the rebel withdrew from Pagak while waiting for their reinforcements to arrive.
When their reinforcement arrived this morning, the rebels claim to have brutally engaged SSPDF forces and flushed them out with huge casualties.
“General Ochan arrived in the area of Pagak yeseterday after long journey with 11, 000 soldiers and quickly moved into action in defending of SPLM/A-IO General Head Quarter.” Reads part of SPLA-IO report.
“On top of that, 153 government soldiers were defected to SPLM/A-IO side with thier guns in good condition.” The report continued.
The rebels claim that General Bol Ruach Rom, the government military governor for Maiwut State has sustained wounds in today’s battle and the deputy commander for operation in Maiwut State has been killed.
The today’s fighting came less than 24 hours after Governor Bol called on citizens to return home following his arrival in Maiwut.
“I am appealing to the citizens of Maiwut State in neigboring Countries and those residing in the neigboring states to return home and help in the rebuilding of Maiwut State. Your government will provide the basic servcices such security, education, health, cleaning drinking water and all other basic neccessities. Your government is here to provide all the necessary support to you.” Reads part of a report that was authored in Juba on behalf of Gen. Bol Ruai.
“I am also happy to announce that the Citizens we got in Pagak are very excited and happy to receive the State Government and tomorrow they will inform the rest of the people to return to their houses in the neighboring towns.” their report continued.
While the leading commanders who are fighting in Pagak are from Machar’s Nuer tribe, majority of the fighters on government side are from Salva Kiir’s Dinka.
The fighting which has continued for over 4 years started in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his deputy, Dr. Riek Machar, of plotting a coup against his leadership.
Despite a peace agreement that was signed in 2015, fighting has continued to escalate to areas like Pagak that were relatively peaceful.
Pagak and Akobo are among the SPLA-IO strongholds that were not captured for the last four years.
While Kiir’s faction has gained upper hand in capturing major towns in Upper Nile region in the last one year, Machar’s SPLA-IO has gained upper hand in Equatoria and Western Bhar el Ghazal where his forces have created many war fronts since 2016.