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.
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.
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
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Heavy fighting erupted on Friday in the South Sudanese town of Pagak near the border with Ethiopia when rebels launched an offensive against government forces, the rebels said.
Rebel spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel told Reuters that the rebels were seeking to regain Pagak, which was captured by government forces on Aug. 7.
"We decided to launch an attack on them because Pagak is our base. They took it from us and we want to take it back," Gabriel said.
"We cannot say right now that we are in full control but we are going towards taking control."
Dickson Gatluak Jock, a spokesman for the forces of South Sudan's First Vice President Taban Deng Gai, confirmed that they were engaged in fighting.
"At 5:00 am, SPLA-IO forces (loyal to the Juba government) came under heavy fire (from the rebels) in Pagak ... Their main aim was to drive out our forces from the strategic town of Pagak," he told Reuters.
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 Machar.
UNMISS, the U.N. peacekeeping force in South Sudan, told Reuters in an email the situation in Pagak was "extremely worrying" and urged all combatants to show restraint.
ZANZIBAR, Tanzania — South Sudan's government forces have overtaken the rebel-held stronghold and opposition headquarters of Pagak, along the Ethiopian border, William Gatjiath Deng, spokesman for the opposition IO, told The Associated Press.
"They took the main town and our forces are now regrouping," said Deng, reached by phone.
Army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang did not confirm the reports saying that he's "not aware" of Pagak's takeover.
The rebels burned their military barracks before fleeing, to prevent government forces from being able to use the ammunition, according to residents.
"While this is a significant symbolic setback for the IO it remains to be seen whether the government can secure the position so deep in IO territory," said an aid worker familiar with the situation in Pagak, who insisted on anonymity for security reasons.
Earlier this year the government declared a unilateral ceasefire, however there have been continued reports of government-led offensives into Maiwut and toward Pagak, including killings of civilians and burnings of houses.
In July, the United Nations reported that 25 aid workers were evacuated from Pagak due to attacks.
Since South Sudan spiraled into civil war almost four years ago, Pagak has been the headquarters of the opposition rebels, led by former Vice President Riek Machar, who is in exile in South Africa. The IO rebels still hold territory in Panyijiar County in Unity state as well rural areas of Jonglei state and Akobo state, traditionally areas where South Sudan's Nuer people live.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry commenced his official visit to Sudan on Wednesday, following a delay to the trip amid ongoing tensions.
The visit was set to take place on July 22, but was delayed as a result of “emergency engagements” in Shoukry’s schedule, according to Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid.
The agenda is to include discussions around the issues that have led to heightened tensions between the two countries, including questions of sovereignty over the Halayeb Triangle, which Egypt currently controls, and official stances on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
The Renaissance Dam
Egypt’s tensions with Sudan over Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam were evident recently when Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal expressed solidarity with Egyptian demands regarding its share of the Nile water share during an Arab information ministers’ meeting in Cairo on July 10.
Khartoum reprimanded Belal for his statements, which departed from Sudan’s official position on the matter and have been more congruent with the Ethiopian stance and that of other Nile Basin countries — who advocate for contracting Egypt’s historical share of the water. Attempts to censor Belal angered Egypt, according to a local Foreign Ministry source who spoke with Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.
The source adds that Shoukry’s visit is an attempt to distance Sudan from the spat between Cairo and Addis Ababa, and to relieve the former from the pressures being applied by Ethiopia and most other Nile Basin countries.
“Cairo can’t get over what happened during the Nile Basin countries’ last meeting in Uganda in June, when Sudan agreed with them to reject Egypt’s proposal to host the next meeting,” the source says.
“The issue culminated in Sudan leveling accusations Cairo does not want to achieve a technical resolution, and only wants to express its complete rejection of the dam,” he adds.
Commenting on Egypt’s reaction, a Sudanese diplomat working in Cairo, speaking on condition of anonymity, says: “Our brothers in Egypt accuse us of failing to support them and their water concerns, but they do not give much attention to the water, economic or strategic interests that tie Sudan to the Nile Basin countries.”
The border dispute
Shoukry intends to deliver a “decisive message” to his Sudanese counterpart regarding the Halayeb Triangle, asserting that Egypt will stand firmly against any efforts to internationalize the dispute over the area, which lies on Egypt’s southern border between the towns of Halayeb, Shalateen and Abu Ramad.
In July, the Egyptian government announced its intention to prove the triangle is Egyptian, either through developmental interventions to expand the population, or through increasing its security presence by deploying more patrols.
According to a second source in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, also speaking on condition of anonymity, Cairo needs to send a clear message to Khartoum regarding the need to stop “breaches of sovereignty” by Sudanese forces in the region. The source asserted that Egypt would actively respond to any diplomatic measures taken by Sudan, including recent attempts to take the issue to the United Nations and the African Union. “We will not stand as spectators and we are very aware about what Sudan is doing,” he says.
The Sudanese diplomat tells Mada Masr Sudan does not want to create problems with Egypt over the Halayeb triangle. “We have evidence that proves this area is Sudanese, and if you ask the residents themselves, they will say they are Sudanese. In any case, we are prepared to resort to international arbitration and accept the rulings, but Egypt is the one refusing this option in its efforts to enforce de facto control over the area.”
A third Egyptian Foreign Ministry source closely following the Sudan issue tells Mada Masr that Sudan is escalating the matter, citing a message sent by the Sudanese government to the United Nations asking Cairo to agree to initiating international arbitration procedures. This step by Sudan, he says, followed a slew of others, such as an official complaint lodged at the United Nations, and the deployment of Sudanese police forces to conduct searches inside the triangle.
The Sudanese diplomat believes that Sudan can achieve sovereignty over the triangle through international arbitration, even if it takes a long time. He says there is a wide consensus over the Halayeb issue in Sudan, even between the government and the opposition.
Meanwhile, the third Foreign Ministry source asserts that the issue will be discussed but not negotiated during Shoukry’s visit, in response to a request from Sudan.
This means Shoukry will hear comments from the Sudanese side on the matter, but not make any decisions regarding the triangle.
There is the possibility of bilateral cooperation through the framework of the unactivated Four Freedoms Agreement, signed by Egypt and Sudan in 2004. Sudan ultimately rejected the agreement, which would have permitted free movement, residence, work and ownership in both countries.
Shoukry is expected to raise other contentious issues, including better border control between Egypt, Sudan and Libya to prevent the inflow of Libyan militants to Egypt through Sudan, according to the first Egyptian Foreign Ministry source.
Shoukry was aware ahead of the visit that Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Ghandour would likely touch on several reasons why Sudan is displeased, according to the Sudanese diplomat, and is expecting to hear complaints about Egypt’s intervention in Sudan’s domestic affairs.
Sudan has repeatedly accused Egypt of meddling in its affairs, which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi disputed at the end of May. In early June, Ghandour met with Sisi in Cairo to discuss this and other points of contention.
Sudan has also highlighted the treatment of Sudanese diplomats within some Arab organizations in which Egypt plays a leading role, including the General Secretariat of the Arab League and the Arab Women Organization, according to an Egyptian diplomat working in the Arab League.
The Arab League diplomat adds that Sudanese officials know Egypt has used its presence at the United Nations Security Council against Sudan, and has always moved to block the lifting of sanctions on Sudan, and accused the country of harboring terrorists.
“Egypt doesn’t take into consideration the impact of its actions on public sentiment,” the Sudanese diplomat says. “Social media makes it obvious that Sudanese youth are angry at Egypt, an anger that should not be underestimated,” he adds. It is time, he says, to “reformulate the basis of the historical relationship between Egypt and Sudan, and to consider Sudanese views on bilateral and regional relationships more than before.”
Actions Sudan has taken against Cairo are not due to influence from Qatar and Turkey as Cairo believes, he says, highlighting that Sudan’s strongest ally is Saudi Arabia, which is also one of Cairo’s most important allies.
None of the sources Mada Masr spoke to expect any major changes to follow Shoukry’s visit to Sudan.
Ethiopia and Egypt have called on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to suspend International Criminal Court (ICC) investigations against Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir.
The call was made by top diplomats of the respective countries at the UN. Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The two diplomats were reacting to a report presented to the UNSC by the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, urging the council to expedite action on the situation in Sudan.
The case against the president of Sudan is so weak, its continuation makes no sense, in fact, it will only damage the credibility of this council.
The South Sudan Tribune reports that the Ethiopian Ambassador to the UN, Tekeda Alemu expressed disappointment at how the ICC was conducting its activities.
“The Council should do its part, including by exerting pressure on armed movements to put an end to the suffering of the people of Darfur,” Alemu said whiles calling on rebel groups in the Dafur region to lay down their arms.
“The case against the president of Sudan is so weak, its continuation makes no sense, in fact, it will only damage the credibility of this council. For the lack of action concerning the matter will be not consistent with the primary responsibility that the council has for the international peace and security,” he concluded.
For his part, Egypt’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta, reechoed the call for ICC proceedings against al-Bashir to be suspended.
“The Court must be careful not to jeopardise peace and security on the African continent,” he is quoted to have said.
The war in Darfur is a major armed conflict in the region, it began in February 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel groups began fighting the government, which they accused of oppressing Darfur’s non-Arab population.
The ensuing clashes resulted in massive deaths and displacement, the reason for which the Sudanese leader, Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
May 20, 2017 (JUBA) - South Sudanese government forces killed 114 civilians in Yei, a town located about 100 miles from the capital, Juba between July 2016 and January 2017, the United Nations said.
Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers singing pro-war song (AFP file photo)
The U.N, in a new report, also documented various crimes of rape, looting and torture, allegedly committed by government forces in and around Yei town.
"Attacks were committed with an alarming degree of brutality and, like elsewhere in the country, appeared to have an ethnic dimension," partly reads a section of the U.N investigation report.
Yei, a relatively peaceful region until mid-last year, has lately been experiencing lots of clashes between government forces and the armed opposition troops loyal to ex-First Vice President, Riek Machar.
The U.N investigations report also highlights various cases of sexual violence, including rape, allegedly committed by pro-government forces on women and young girls in and around the town of Yei.
"In view of the restrictions of access faced by (the UN), the number of documented cases may only be a fraction of those actually committed. Some of the human rights violations and abuses committed in and around Yei may amount to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity and warrant further investigation,” it says.
ARMY DENIES ALLEGATIONS
South Sudan army spokesperson Colonel Santo Domic Chol has, however, dismissed the U.N report, describing it as “baseless”.
"This is not the first time the UN has accused the SPLA and tried to portray us as enemies of the people," Chol told Reuters.
“The SPLA is one of the biggest military institutions in the country and it accommodates people from different background and the whole SPLA cannot go out and rape citizens... so it has to be specific that we have seen two or three SPLA soldiers in such location committing such crimes,” he added.
The military official said President Salva Kiir ordered all army commanders in Yei to punish soldiers who committed gender-based violence.
Last week, two U.N agencies appealed to donors to step up support for people fleeing crisis-hit South Sudan as the $1.4 billion response plan remains 86 percent unfunded.
According to the U.N, the situation in war-torn South Sudan continues worsening, with a combination of conflict, drought and famine leading to further displacement and a rapid exodus of people fleeing one of the world’s most severe crises.
South Sudan has reportedly now become the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis with more than 1.8 million refugees, including one million children, having sought safety in Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).
South Sudan has witnessed renewed clashes between forces loyal to South Sudan President Kiir and the armed opposition faction (SPLM-IO) backing the country’s former First Vice-President, in spite of the August 2015 peace deal.
The dry season has ended in Sudan and SPLM-N rebels the government is preparing to start new offensive operations in the Nuba Mountains of Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. Previous fighting in the Nuba Mountains has disrupted farming and foreign aid groups expect a new wave of refugees later this Spring. The famine threat in South Kordofan is particularly dire because the 2016 harvest there was poor. The threat of violence and existing food shortages means conditions in the state will get worse.
March 27, 2017: The war in Sudan’ Darfur region sputters on. This month the UN organized another peace conference that focused on conflicts in North Darfur state but included tribal leaders from South, Central and West Darfur states. One of the key issues was the passage of nomadic pastoralists through farming areas. Another was law enforcement.
March 26, 2017: Sudan said it will conduct a series of air force exercises with Saudi Arabia from March 29 to April 12. They will be conducted in northern Sudan (the Meroe area). The two nations agreed to the exercise last year. Saudi Arabian Typhoon and F-15 fighters will participate. The exercises are another indication that Sudan and Iran are no longer allies.
March 25, 2017: South Sudan said it would agree to a ceasefire with rebels but the offer was rejected as a “non-starter” and mere propaganda. The government is facing mounting criticism for its failure to address the famine.
Six aid workers were killed in an ambush in South Sudan as they were traveling from the capital, Juba, to the town of Pibor.
March 25, 2017: The NMLC a Nuba rebel organization in South Kordofan has demanded the right to self-determination for the Nuba Mountain region. The NMLC said it supports dissolving the rebel movements’ current governing secretariat. Observers said this demand is tantamount to an NMLC withdrawal from the SPLM-N (the umbrella orgaization for nearly all South Sudan rebels). The NMLC said it lacks confidence in current SPLM-N leadership. The NMLC, however, does not control military operations. So far SPLM-N military officers in South Kordofan have not commented on the NMLC demand.
March 23, 2017: The UN said South Sudan’s government must respond “to the needs of South Sudan’s people” and address the famine that is gripping the country. On February 20 the UN officially declared a famine in South Sudan and claimed that 100,000 people are currently starving. One million more people face starvation. Aid groups estimate that 4.9 million people in South Sudan will need “food related assistance.” All told from 40 to 50 percent of South Sudan’s population faces food shortages. The UN did not blame the government for causing the famine. In late February an American official called the food crisis in South Sudan “man-made.” That is largely true. The U.S. statement doesn’t explicitly blame the government. Rebel groups have also disrupted farming and they also steal food aid. However, several aid groups do say South Sudan’s government is largely responsible for the deteriorating situation. The government uses food as a weapon to depopulate and weaken areas controlled by the rebels. (Austin Bay)
March 22, 2017: A new Ethiopian general has assumed command of the UN peacekeepers for Abyei. This force of 5,326 troops was created in 2011 to monitor the disputed area (Abyei) and local civilians wnile protecting foreign workers. The workers include humanitarian aid workers and personnel working in Abyei’s oil fields.
South Sudan rebels are threatening to arrest oil company workers in Upper Nile state. The threat came after the government signed a new exploration agreement for Block B3 on March 6. The South Sudan rebels control several oil fields in the state.
Ugandan media claimed a South Sudanese military intelligence officer survived an assassination attempt in Uganda by disarming his attackers. South Sudanese police confirmed the attack and claimed the two would-be assassins were South Sudanese citizens unhappy with changes the South Sudan government has made.
March 19, 2017: South Sudan’s Aweil state acknowledged that famine conditions in the area have forced several thousand people to flee north to refugee camps in Sudan. This is really the third wave of refugees to leave the region. Sudan’s Eastern Darfur state already has around 80,000 South Sudanese refugees. Medical aid workers in South Sudan recently reported that they are seeing an increasing number of cases of malnutrition among children.
March 18, 2017: An Ethiopian diplomatic delegation has arrived in South Sudan’s capital to help South Sudan search for kidnapped Ethiopians who were seized by ethnic Murle raiders earlier this month. The victims (all children) are believed to be in South Sudan’s Boma state.
March 17, 2017: The NSF, a rival to SPLM-IO (the main South Sudanese rebel group) continues to grow. General Faiz Ismail Futur announced that he has resigned from the SPLM-IO and joined the NSF. Futur had commanded SPLM-IO units in the Western Bahr al-Ghazal region. He said that the SPLM-IO had ignored conditions in his area and failed to supply his forces. He also criticized SPLM-IO leaders for practicing the same tribalism the government is accused of. The current SPLM-IO leader is a member of the Nuer tribe. The South Sudan president is a Dinka, which is South Sudan’s most numerous ethnic group while the Nuer are second largest. Futur called the SPLM-IO leader a dictator. The NSF is led by a general from the Equatoria region. NSF leaders has accuse SPLM-IO leaders of destroying South Sudan. Several other SPLM-IO leaders and military officers have left the organization and joined the NSF.
March 15, 2017: Ethiopia reported that over a thousand South Sudanese gunmen have entered Ethiopia’s Glabella region March 12 and March 13 and killed 28 people while also abducting 43 children. South Sudan confirmed that and identified the raiders as Murle tribesmen. Ethiopia said some of the raiders were still inside Ethiopia and Ethiopian troops were pursuing them. A similar attack occurred last year and the Ethiopian Army entered South Sudan.
March 14, 2017: The UN is investigating new reports of misbehavior in South Sudan. Both government and rebels have been accused of making unlawful arrests, torturing victims and committing rape.
Chinese UN peacekeepers rescued seven UN civilian enokoyees who were trapped in a hotel in Yei River state. Fighting had erupted in Yei between the soldiers and rebels. The firefight was only 200 meters from the UN base in Yei where the peacekeepers were stationed. The Chinese peacekeepers left the base and brought the civilians back to the base without loss.
March 13, 2017: Some foreign aid workers in the area claim that religious organizations like the Catholic Church have become the only functional civil institutions in South Sudan. The aid workers note that the Catholic Church is helping deliver food and other aid when the government has failed. Right now about 40 percent of South Sudan’s population is facing a serious food shortage. Foreign aid workers note that churches have a broader reach than even the UN, which tends to focus on certain specific areas. Churches do suffer attacks, but they also manage to negotiate local peace agreements which permit the distribution of aid. (Austin Bay)
March 12, 2017: In the northeast oil-producing region (Bich state) South Sudanese troops and rebels fought a battle that left at least 23 dead, including two rebel officers.
March 9, 2017: The Cobra Faction in South Sudan has joined the NSF. The Cobra Faction signed a peace agreement with the government in 2014. The Cobra Faction still believes the government has been guilty of encouraging tribal fighting by supplying pro-government tribal factions with weapons and other support.
March 8, 2017: Rebels are accusing a specific South Sudan government military unit of committing atrocities in Yei River state. This areas is near South Sudan’s border with Uganda and Congo (southwest of Juba). Rebels say the Matiang Anyoor unit is manned by ethnic Dinka soldiers and is supposed to be part of South Sudan’s army. In practice Matiang Anyoor operates more like an ethnic Dinka militia. The government denied that any of its troops had committed atrocities in Yei. Leaders of South Sudan’s Azande tribe are criticizing the government for favoring the Dinka tribe and promoting “Dinka domination.” The Azande claim that Dinka soldiers attacked them in Gbudue state (southwestern South Sudan) near the Congo border. Meanwhile, there are reports of more conflicts between the Dinkas and other tribes in Western Equatoria, Central Equatoria and Eastern Equatoria states. The Western Equatoria region is one of South Sudan’s most productive agricultural areas.
March 2, 2017: A slow power struggle continues in Sudan where the government has a prime minister for the first time in 28 years. But the prime minister is an old face: First Vice-President Bakri Hassan Saleh, who is supposed to be responsible for reforming the government. That assignment was made by the president (Omar al-Bashir) who is really a dictator. Bashir and the political opposition have fundamental disagreements over the composition of the new government and what constitutes reform.
March 1, 2017: Darfur SLM-MM rebels are demanding Sudan government officials indicted for committing war crimes in the Darfur region be arrested. Those indcited (for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide) include Omar al-Bashir and several of his key aides.
February 28, 2017: Ethiopian security forces stopped an attack on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) complex. The GERD is on the Nile River near the Ethiopia-Sudan border. Security personnel intercepted 20 members of an Ethiopian rebel group. (Benishangul Gumez Peoples Liberation Movement) and killed 13 of them as they approached the dam. The other seven fled into Sudan where local police arrested them. The seven were then turned over to Ethiopia. Ethiopian authorities said the group had assembled in Eritrea and had orders to disrupt construction of the dam.