South Sudan’s army says heavy clashes between government forces and rebels have left dozens of people dead over the weekend around the town of Malakal.
“Our forces were able to successfully drive them back” after they tried to seize control of the town, army spokesman Brigadier General Lul Ruai told journalists on Sunday. “Over 56 rebels were killed,” he said.
The rebels had attacked government positions on Friday night but the military had held their ground, the army spokesman added.
“We came here ... to let the people of South Sudan, and in particular the region, know that Malakal was not captured by the rebels as reported over the weekend,” he said.
On Friday, the rebels had announced that they had taken control of Lalo and the nearby location of Wajwok, and were about to capture Malakal.
“We want to make sure that the government is dislodged from the town and we take control,” said Dickson Gatluakm, a spokesman for the forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.
Last week, South Sudan’s military had warned about the surge of violence, raising fears of a full-scale civil war.
On October 10, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said it had received reports of “horrific attacks on civilians, including some who were burned to death.”
South Sudan plunged into turmoil in late 2013, when President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused Machar, a Nuer, of plotting to take the helm of the oil-rich African nation.
As a result of distrust between the two leaders, the world's youngest nation sank into a civil war.
Since then, clashes between the two sides have often followed ethnic lines. Human rights groups have accused both sides of human rights violations.
Numerous internationally-mediated attempts for reconciliation between the conflicting sides have failed.
A peace pact in 2015 ended the fighting, but it has sporadically been violated.
In a major setback to the peace efforts, violent clashes erupted in the capital Juba on July 8 between Kiir’s guards and troops loyal to Machar.
The July clashes have pushed the number of refugees in the conflict-stricken country past the one-million mark, according to the United Nations.
In a further blow to the peace prospects, Machar last month called for “a popular armed resistance” against Kiir.
Machar has fled the country and is reportedly seeking medical treatment in South Africa.