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South Sudan troops retake strategic town from rebels

By AFP - Jan 18,2014 - Last updated at Jan 18,2014

JUBA — South Sudanese government forces backed by Ugandan troops on Saturday recaptured the strategic town of Bor, defeating an army of thousands of rebels, officials said.

Army spokesman Philip Aguer said soldiers entered the town, capital of Jonglei State and situated 200 kilometres north of the capital Juba, in the afternoon following days of fierce fighting.

Uganda’s army spokesman Paddy Ankunda also confirmed that Ugandan troops, who have been backing South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, took part in the offensive.

“Today the gallant SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] forces entered Bor, they have defeated more than 15,000 forces of [rebel leader] Riek Machar and frustrated his plans to attack Juba and install himself as the ruler of South Sudan,” Aguer told reporters.

The town, from where rebels had been threatening to march on Juba, has changed hands four times since the conflict in the world’s youngest nation began five weeks ago. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the town, which was already reported to be deserted and largely destroyed.

Aguer said the battle had left “many dead”, but did not give figures. Rebel military spokesman Lul Ruai Koang confirmed the town had fallen, but insisted that the rebels chose to make a “tactical withdrawal” to reorganise.

“It is not a big issue. There are 11 counties in Jonglei state we are in control of nine counties. So if we are in control of nine counties, why should we waste our time on just one small county without even a population? There is no population in Bor, the entire population fled,” he said.

Ateny Wek Ateny, spokesman for President Kiir, promised that government troops would “observe international rule of law” — a day after a top UN rights envoy reported that the conflict has been marked by mass killings, extrajudicial killings, widespread destruction and looting.

“If there are people captured they should be kept in regards to the international law,” the spokesman said.

Heavy fighting was reported to be continuing in and around the key oil town of Malakal, capital of Unity State and one of the main battlefields since fighting erupted last month between rival forces loyal to President Kiir and his sacked deputy Machar.

The government meanwhile said it was optimistic it may soon sign a ceasefire agreement with rebels, amid the first signs that peace talks — which have been taking place in a luxury hotel in the Ethiopian capital for the past two weeks — may be finally making progress.

Kiir’s spokesman said the government’s chief negotiator, who had been back in Juba for consultations, was preparing to return to Addis Ababa intent on signing a truce.

“The government is ready to sign a cessation of hostilities tomorrow or on Monday. The chief negotiator had come here to consult on the conditions imposed by the rebels,” he added, without specifying if all of the differences had been ironed out.

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