AFP – South Sudan’s army said it had seized back full control of the strategic town of Malakal Monday, the last major settlement under rebel control, after almost a week of bitter street fighting.
Rebel forces staged a fresh attack last Tuesday to seize the riverside town, which has changed hands three times since the conflict in South Sudan began last month.
Government forces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), fought tank battles on the streets of the northern town, the capital of oil-producing Upper Nile state.
“Malakal is finally in the hands of the SPLA… they [the rebels] were flushed out of the town,” army spokesman Philip Aguer said.
Thousands of civilians have been sheltering at the United Nations’ base in the town, with dozens wounded even there as stray bullets hit the overcrowded compound and peacekeepers fire warning shots to protect them.
The recapture of Malakal comes just two days after government troops celebrated the retaking of Bor, capital of Jonglei state.
The towns have seen some of the heaviest fighting in the conflict, with Bor left devastated and scores of scores of buildings razed to the ground.
However, the rebels are reported to still control large areas of the countryside in Upper Nile and Jonglei, as well as other parts of South Sudan.
Thousands have been killed and half a million civilians have been forced to flee the fighting, which entered its sixth week on Monday.
Over 200 civilians died last week when they were fleeing the violence in Malakal by crossing the White Nile River on an overloaded boat that sank.
South Sudan has been gripped by conflict since 15 December, when clashes broke out between army units loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and those supporting ex-vice president Riek Machar.