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South Sudan military captures rebel headquarters near Ethiopia border Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

South Sudan military captures rebel headquarters near Ethiopia border

South Sudanese troops captured the rebel HQ on Saturday [file photo-AFP]

Date of publication: 7 August, 2017

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The South Sudanese army say they have captured the border town of Pagak, which has been the main base of fighters loyal to rebel leader Riek Machar.
South Sudanese soldiers captured insurgents' military headquarters on Sunday, dealing a major blow to rebels loyal to former Deputy President Riek Machar, Juba said on Monday.

Government troops fought pitched battles with opposition fighters close to South Sudan's north-western border with Ethiopia, before overrunning Pagak, which has been the main base of Machar loyalists.

Pagak was the location of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLA-IO) military headquarters.

Rebel fighters withdrew on Sunday allowing government troops to enter "without a fight", the army said on Monday.

"This morning at 6am our forces entered the town and as we are speaking now they are in full control of Pagak," said military spokesman Dickson Gatluak.

He claimed clashes have also erupted in the nearby town of Maiwut. 

Brigadier General William Gatjiath, a spokesperson for the rebel movement, said his fighters retreated to Maiwut and are preparing to retake the former SPLA-IO stronghold.

"So at the moment as we are speaking all our forces are surrounding Pagak right now," he told AFP.

Sections of the insurgency have accused fighters loyal to Machar of setting fire to Pagak before they fled "causing chaos", the Sudan Tribune reported.

South Sudan has been engulfed in war since Juba declared independence in 2011, with much of the conflict centered on ethnic divisions and control for the country.

Fierce fighting broke out in 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his deputy Machar of plotting a coup against him.

A brief peace was shattered with pitched battles across the country from 2015, including in the capital Juba.

Machar's rebellion will have suffered a serious blow if they are unable to regain Pagak.

"It is a big symbolic blow to the rebel movement. Pagak has been the general headquarters since basically the beginning of the rebellion," South Sudan analyst Alan Boswell told AFP.

"If it wasn't for the war having spread nationally this would possibly have signalled the end of the rebellion." 
Sudan to the north and other regional powers have been accused of supplying weapons to rival sides, adding fuel to the conflict.

South Sudan's government is said to have the third highest military spending rate per GDP in the world. Despite its oil wealth, South Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Disease and famine engulfed South Sudan with another major human catastrophe imminent, aid agencies have warned. 

Half the population - around six million people - will be reliant on food aid in South Sudan this month.

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