March 4, 2014 (JUBA) – The former vice-president of South Sudan turned rebel leader, Riek Machar, has visited Malakal, the capital of the oil-rich Upper Nile state, which his troops recaptured from Salva Kiir’s government since 21 February.
Multiple international sources told Sudan Tribune that Machar visited the state capital last week and spent a number of days in the city centre. The rebels too confirmed their leader’s visit.
The rebel leader has been in Jonglei state since mid-December when the violence broke out in the nation’s capital, Juba between his supporters and soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir.
Machar’s spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, on Monday confirmed that the rebel leader indeed visited Malakal in order to restore calm and confidence among the civil population.
“Yes it is true. He paid an inspection visit to Malakal few days after the town was recaptured by our forces. He was there to help restore calm and confidence so that civilians who were scared and fled from Malakal because of the unlawful activities carried out by the government forces and their foreign allies could return to the town,” Dak said.
The rebel leader’s spokesperson further claimed that under the full control of the rebels, calm had now returned to Malakal and that civilians were returning to their homes.
Anti-government forces seized control of the strategic oil-rich town after battling their pro-government counterparts in what was condemned as a complete violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement signed Ethiopia on 23 January.
A United Nations patrol team earlier noted that Malakal town had been looted and appeared to be generally empty of civilians after its recapture by opposition forces.
Brig. Gen. Lul Ruai Koang, the military spokesman for the rebels, however, accused government troops and their allies of allegedly looting Poloich Market on February 23.
“The business community revealed that shops were looted, food and non-food items stolen, and portable furniture carried away,” he said in a statement to Sudan Tribune.
Dak also accused the “government and foreign troops deployed in Paloich oilfields in Upper Nile state of planning to attack the rebels defensive positions in the area in violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement.
He further warned that the “forces of the SPLM in resistance have the right to self-defence.”