Despite Truce, Satellites Confirm Malakal Under Attack Again
Adopted from Satellite Sentinel Project
February 19, 2014
New Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) imagery shows more than 535 huts in and around Malakal have been destroyed in recent clashes, in direct violation the January cessation of hostilities agreement between South Sudan’s combatant forces (see Figure 1) DigitalGlobe’s analysis confirms that at least 57 huts in a residential area of town were destroyed, likely as a result of renewed fighting between the South Sudanese army and the armed opposition. (see Figure 2) The destruction of another 77 huts in Malakal’s market area is evident in imagery collected on February 17, and 40 percent of market stalls are visibly destroyed or severely damaged. (see Figure 3) More than 400 huts were destroyed in the east of the city.
Malakal has changed hands at least twice in recent weeks, and SSP previously reported on war crimes committed in the town during the last bout of violence. DigitalGlobe Analytics review of recent imagery over Malakal, including coverage from February 12, 2014, confirms that the damage shown to civilian structures in this report occurred since that time.
The safety of hundreds of thousands of civilians — those fleeing the area, those trapped within the town, and those at a U.N. compound in Malakal — is immediately at stake. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan compound, which currently houses 21,600 displaced persons, is now caught in the crossfire between rebel and government forces. UNMISS condemned the attacks and called on fighters to respect the inviolability of the U.N. premises, warning that the clashes would exacerbate an urgent humanitarian situation. Julia Albert-Recht, the International Medical Corps (IMC) Programme Manager in Malakal warned that “the renewed fighting is having a devastating knock-on effect for civilians in Malakal.” She cautioned that continued fighting will limit IMC’s doctors’ ability to operate, leaving civilians in “real danger” since its doctors won’t be able to ” get out to help them.” Albert-Recht added, “There are thousands of innocent families in Malakal who need health and nutrition assistance which they won’t get because of this latest round of fighting.” IMC reports that it treated over 100 people hurt in the fighting on February 18 alone. Over 56,000 displaced people are in Malakal town, but outside the protection of the U.N. base.
While combatant forces battled on Malakal’s streets, inter-communal clashes broke out within the U.N. camp among Nuer and Dinka displaced people. The U.N confirms that 10 people were killed as a result of the recent fighting and that many others were treated at the base hospital for injuries. A multi-ethnic city housing Shilluk, Nuer, Dinka, Bari and many other ethnic groups, Malakal has historically been a bastion of diversity. Nonetheless, as a result of the recent fighting, reports from credible sources of violence and door-to-door searches along ethnic lines are widespread.
Malakal holds the key to control of South Sudan’s lucrative oil fields at Paloch, which is just 90 miles away and houses an oil complex where a key crude oil processing facility is situated. As of the time of publication, there were conflicting accounts of who currently controls Malakal. (see Reuters and Voice of America, Radio Tamazuj).
An aid source told France 24 and Agence France-Presse that rebels had launched a “very big, coordinated attack” and government-aligned warplanes had flown over Malakal. Enough Project’s ground sources reported heavy gunfire between government forces and rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement In Opposition forces (including White Army elements) around Malakal’s airport. One local ground source reports that the attack on Malakal came from the north, along the Melut – Malakal road, and that by mid-day forces had seized the airport and taken command of northern entrances to the city.
Upper Nile state authorities asserted that clashes broke out at 7 a.m. in the town’s northern, southern and central areas. By the SPLA’s account, rebel forces aligned with Riek Machar reportedly attacked Malakal in an effort to recapture the town from the government. South Sudanese Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny claimed to the BBC that rebels were “well-equipped,” using AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and machine guns. But the armed opposition asserts that South Sudanese government forces, with Ugandan support, attacked rebel positions in Malakal. Philip Aguer, who denies that Ugandan forces are in Malakal, alleged thar clashes were ongoing in the town. Upper Nile state officials also asserted that the government remained in control of the town and airport.
The Satellite Sentinel Project has been tracking violations of the cessation of hostilities agreement since it was signed in late January. SSP previously reported on a government offensive on Leer town in Unity state. Recently, South Sudanese army Lt. General Malual Ayom Dor, who heads military operations in Jonglei, publicly confirmed another violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement, that his “forces fought [against Machar’s troops] in self-defence until we managed to push them away and take control of [Gadiang]”
U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and humanitarian coordinator Toby Lanzer confirmed that hostilities broke out in Malakal, and highlighted the need to protect non-combatants. Humanitarian aid organization Oxfam has said those trapped in Malakal are “very afraid” due to the fighting. An assessment by humanitarian agencies found that attacks in Malakal and the surrounding area have sent at least 10,000 people fleeing north toward Rom, a transit point for displaced people heading to Melut.
In addition to local and displaced South Sudanese people caught amid violent clashes, there are also more than 125,000 Sudanese refugees from Blue Nile state, who fled fighting and attacks from the Sudanese government only to be at risk now in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state.