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Video: exclusive report from South Sudan ghost town

© FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-19

Rebel forces have vowed to continue their offensive in South Sudan, despite a month-old ceasefire with government forces. FRANCE 24 reporters sent exclusive footage from the frontline city of Malakal, which some viewers may find disturbing.

The city of Malakal, a major gateway to South Sudan’s oil fields, has changed hands three times since mid-December. It is now reduced to a ghost town, burned to the ground.

Rebel fighters supporting ousted vice-president Riek Machar retook it last week, despite a ceasefire signed in late January with the government of President Salva Kiir.

Dozens of men, women and children were killed in that latest battle. Signs of violent combat litter the city, including dead bodies.

Pockets of rebels provide the only visible living presence. Some combatants are very young and appear to have little idea of what they are fighting for.

"We understand a little bit of it – some of it, that the vice president and the president had some disagreement between themselves,” a rebel soldier told FRANCE 24.

Civilians killed inside hospital

The rebels have ransacked the city and killed people inside the local hospital. Humanitarian agencies, backed by UN peacekeepers, are rescuing those still in hiding.

"Some of the elderly and disabled seem to have been left behind, they weren't able to keep up with their families when they ran," Ruben Stewart, the UN emergency coordinator in the area, told FRANCE 24.

Around thirty of those people have taken shelter at a church, some traumatized. "The rebels have been coming here and taking food, clothes and taking some of the women away with them," Joseph Akieoyay, one of the displaced civilians, told FRANCE 24.

As aid workers proceed with the delicate task of evacuating the mostly infirm survivors of the latest fighting, a UN military liaison officer negotiates safe passage with the rebels.

Riek Machar’s troops say they intend to keep pressing their advantage.

"We are going to establish our headquarters here in Malakal,” said Brigadier General Michael Wal Nyak of the SPLA-in-Opposition faction.”But our forces are going to keep advancing from here as well, to take the oil fields."

A spokesman for President Salva Kiir said on Sunday that oil production – South Sudan’s main source of revenue – was still down 29% from its level before fighting started last December. He added that loyalist troops remained in control of the main oil fields.

Date created : 2014-03-03

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