Juba/Addis Ababa — South Sudanese rebels have dismissed accusations by the government alleging that they committed atrocities after recapturing the strategic capital of the oil-rich state of Upper Nile.
Rebels on Tuesday recaptured Malakal when they dislodged government troops from the town, located 497km north-east of the capital, Juba.
Although the government initially denied the rebels' claims, it publicly admitted on Friday for the first time that the strategic town had actually been recaptured by opposition forces and that the latter remained in full control.
The government, however, accused the rebels of allegedly violating the cessation of hostilities agreement and committing atrocities after taking full control of the area.
President Salva Kiir's spokesperson, Ateny Wek Ateny, on Friday said government forces were not driven far away, further accusing the international community of "ignoring" alleged atrocities committed by the rebels.
"Atrocities are happening on a daily basis and the international community is quiet about this," he said, adding "When Riek's [Machar] forces attack towns and other areas, it's doomsday for those who don't belong to his [Nuer] ethnic group."
Meanwhile, the rebels have dismissed any threats by the government and foreign forces to retake the strategic oil-rich town of Malakal, saying soldiers loyal to President Kiir fled the town heading to counties far away from Malakal.
"Salva Kiir's forces are nowhere to be found around Malakal. They were kicked out from the town since Tuesday, dispersed in disarray and pursued into bushes heading to the southern counties", said Machar's spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak.
He also denied allegations by the president's spokesperson that the rebels had committed atrocities after recapturing Malakal on Tuesday.
"No, that is not true. To the contrary, it was Salva Kiir's soldiers who carried out door-to-door search and mass murder of innocent civilians in Malakal town similar to the well documented massacres they committed in Juba", Dak said.
He said the information gathered by the "pro-democracy forces" after taking full control of the town indicated "horrible stories" of hundreds of people including elderly, women and children mainly from Nuer, Shilluk and Dinka Bor ethnicities, murdered simply because they were not either loyal to Kiir or belonged to his ethnic group.
Dak further claimed that the government and its allied Ugandan troops was on record when it violated the cessation of hostilities agreement in Jonglei state hours after signing it in Addis Ababa, adding that the rebels were occasionally fighting only in self-defence.
"Salva Kiir's soldiers and their foreign allies have been violating the agreement from day one. They have been continuously attacking the positions of our troops in violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement," he told Sudan Tribune.
"Our forces have been either withdrawing from their attacked positions in order to avoid further clashes or in some instances they fought back in self-defence as in the case of Malakal," stressed Machar's publicist.
"As you can see it is the government which has now publicly threatened to retake Malakal by dreaming of launching another offensive in flagrant violation of the agreement," he added.
He said the rebel forces "will continue to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement, but would, however, exercise the right to self-defence wherever and whenever they come under unprovoked attacks."