Juba — The South Sudanese army (SPLA) on Friday admitted losing control of Malakal, the Upper Nile state capital to rebels forces, but said an intensive counter attack to retake the town was underway.
The army spokesperson Phillip Aguer said they had lost contact with their commander in the strategic town now claimed by both sides, but insisted the SPLA would soon gain full control of the oil-rich capital.
"The SPLA commander in Malakal has not been reachable since yesterday [Friday]", Aguer told Sudan Tribune on Saturday, while referring to Gen. Johnson Gony Bilieu, who is the sector II commander in Malakal.
"The SPLA forces are north of Malakal town. They are controlling the airport and key infrastructures and other important installations. The rebels are in the southern part but we moving towards where they are", he added.
Farhan Haq, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary General said Thursday that anti-government forces "appear to be in control of the town [Malakal], as nearly 20,000 civilians sought protection at its base.
Violence erupted in the country's capital, Juba in mid-December last year and spread to other parts of the country along ethnic fault lines with over 1,000 killed and more than 400,000 displaced, according to UN figures.
Ivan Simonovic, the UN Assistant Undersecretary General for Human Rights described said on Friday described the South Sudan situation as "an internal armed conflict" that has caused untold suffering for thousands of civilians.
"Clearly the crisis, which started as a political one, has now taken on an inter-ethnic dimension that urgently needs to be addressed. People on both sides are absolutely convinced that the other side is to blame, which makes the situation even more dangerous", Simonovic told reporters in Juba.
"One month of conflict has set South Sudan back a decade", he added.
The top UN official said there was for an independent fact-finding commission to establish the truth of these terrible events, citing mass atrocities allegedly committed by both sides.
"Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands are now displaced, with some 70,000 people seeking protection in UN camps and 30,000 in the two UN compounds in Juba alone," he added.
South Sudan's defense minister, however, said the SPLA forces had been making significant movement into the rebels held positions as both side battle to control key towns so as to strengthen their position at negotiations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"They have repulsed rebels attempting to return to Bentiu yesterday [Thursday] and they are now controlling most parts of Malakal town. They [rebels] are only in the southern parts", Kuol Manyang Juuk said Friday.
Meanwhile, South Sudan's information minister said government would soon take control of all the rebel-held areas, if they continue to reject the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement.
"If at all the rebels do not accept the cessation of hostilities and sign it on time, then definitely they are going to lose all the positions which they are holding at the moment", Michael Makuei said in a statement on SSTV.
The SPLA are advancing toward Bor and you will hear it soon that the government forces have taken it, he added.