South Sudan Rebels Seize Oil-Rich State’s Capital Amid Talks

January 14, 2014

Bloomberg.com – South Sudanese rebels said they captured Malakal, the capital of oil-rich Upper Nile state, as talks aimed at securing a cease-fire in the nation’s four-week-old conflict continued for a second day.

Opposition forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar seized Malakal today after 72 hours of “heavy fighting,” rebel spokesman Brigadier-General Lul Ruai Koang said in a phone interview. The fighters now plan to recapture Bentiu, capital of neighboring Unity state, “within days,” he said. The rebels lost control of Bentiu on Jan. 10 when government forces advanced on the town.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said fighting was continuing in Malakal after the rebels “pushed our forces” back to the airport. “It’s not yet clear who’s in control,” he said.

Government and rebel negotiators held another round of talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, aimed at ending hostilities that broke out on Dec. 15, when Kiir accused Machar of trying to stage a coup. Machar denies the charge. The dispute escalated into clashes between members of Kiir’s ethnic Dinka community and Machar’s Nuer group.

Almost 80,000 people have fled the country since fighting began, crossing the border to countries including Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The death toll from the conflict is approaching 10,000, according to the International Crisis Group, while 413,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, according to the UN.