South Sudan: Rebel forces clash with government troops near border with Ethiopia

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Heavy fighting erupted on Friday in the South Sudanese town of Pagak as rebel forces clashed with government troops, Reuters reports.

According to the news agency, the rebels were trying to regain the town which lies near the country’s border with Ethiopia.

Government forces claimed back the town from rebel hands in August.

According to the report, Dickson Gatluak Jock, a spokesman for the forces of South Sudan’s First Vice President Taban Deng Gai, confirmed they were engaged in fighting.

“At 5:00 am, SPLA-IO (Juba faction) forces came under heavy fire in Pagak … Their main aim was to drive out our forces from the strategic town of Pagak,” he said.

The report also quotes a rebel spokesman to confirm the fighting.

“The government took Pagak from us six days ago. We decided to launch an attack on them because Pagak is our base. They took it from us and we want to take it back,” rebel spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel said.

“We cannot say right now that we are in full control but we are going towards taking control.”

South Sudan descended into war in December 2013 following President Salva Kiir’s accusations that his then deputy Riek Machar was plotting a coup against his government. Machar denied the accusations but then went on to mobilize a rebel force to fight the government.

A peace deal signed in 2015 has continually been violated by the warring factions, with the war killing thousands and forcing millions out of their homes.

The United Nations currently ranks South Sudan as Africa’s biggest refugee crisis, and third worldwide after Syria and Afghanistan.

The latest clashes come almost two months since President Kiir launched the national dialogue and ordered release of all political detainees.

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