Juba, 25 December
South Sudan's army battled rebel forces in the key town of Malakal today, a minister said, as other troops flushed out remaining insurgent pockets a day after recapturing a strategic town.
“We recaptured Bor yesterday evening, just before sunset, and this morning there are currently operations against some pockets of rebels within the airport area,” information minister Michael Makwei said.
“The Army is clearing them up ~ but most of the rebels who were in the town are on the run,” he said, adding that defence minister Kuol Manyang had already returned to Bor, his hometown, to lead the operation.
But heavy fighting continued in the state capital of oil-producing Upper Nile state Malakal, although the government fiercely rejected rebel claims they had lost control of the town.
“There is fighting now in Malakal since morning between the government forces and the rebels,” Mr Makuei added. “It is not true that the rebels have taken over.”
Bor's capture, apparently without major resistance by the rebels, lifted nearly a week-long seige of the town, where some 17,000 civilians fled into the overstretched United Nations peacekeeping compound for protection, severely stretching limited food and supplies.
Meanwhile, the US has asked South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar to end hostilities and begin mediated political talks.
Led by Secretary of State John Kerry, US officials have been making calls to leaders throughout Africa and the world seeking a solution to the crisis in the world's youngest country, where ethnic and political violence that has left hundreds of people dead and thousands displaced.
Also, the UN will double the size of its peacekeeping force in conflict-torn South Sudan to nearly 14,000.
The Security Council yesterday unanimously approved a temporary increase ofthe UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to 12,500 military and 1,323 police personnel from a current combined strength of 7,000.