South Sudan rebels recapture Pagak, their headquarters
JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan’s rebel forces have reclaimed their stronghold of Pagak, less than a week after being pushed out of the town by government forces, Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, deputy spokesman for the opposition IO, told the Associated Press.
“We have always warned the government not to underestimate the SPLA IO,” said Gabriel.
Gabriel said the government troops were pushed out of the town in northeastern South Sudan over the weekend and many of them have now crossed into Ethiopia where thousands of South Sudanese have already sought refuge from the ongoing clashes.
Since fighting erupted in South Sudan almost four years ago, Pagak has been headquarters of the opposition, led by former Vice President Riek Machar, who’s currently in exile in South Africa.
Army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang wouldn’t confirm the reports, only saying that the army is maintaining its defensive position in the nearby town of Guelguok, roughly 150 kilometers (93 miles) northeast of Pagak.
“They’re still observing the unilateral ceasefire,” said Koang. Earlier this year, a unilateral ceasefire was declared by President Salva Kiir, but reports on the ground say it’s not being upheld.
“They (the government) attack and then they carry the message that they’re for peace,” said Sarah Nyanath Elijah, a local aid worker who fled Pagak to Ethiopia two weeks ago when fighting broke out. Elijah said she was one of roughly 50,000 people from the center who ran for their lives when government forces started firing rockets from the nearby town of Maiwut.
She says the opposition’s recapture of Pagak is a “big hallelujah” for people like her, of the Nuer ethnic group, often said to be a target throughout the civil war by the largely Dinka government army. Elijah says when peace returns she’ll go back to Pagak.
However, experts say that the recapture of Pagak shows the conflict will continue.
“It’s becoming a vicious cycle,” said Jacob Chol, professor of comparative politics at the University of Juba and an expert in conflict analysis. “There’s no hope that this war will end soon.”