South Sudan army said on Friday it has been unable to contact its forces fighting in Malakal, situated approximately 650 kilometers (400 miles) north of the national capital Juba, as rebels claimed to have taken its control.
“The commander in Malakal has not been accessible since yesterday,” army spokesman Philip Aguer said.
Malakal has switched hands twice, and both the South Sudanese government and rebels insist they are in control of this city.
Rebel spokesman Lul Ruai Kong, speaking in neighboring Ethiopia, claimed earlier this week to have taken the town.
However, South Sudan’s Minister of Information Michael Makuei insisted late on Thursday that the town remained “fully under our control” and called the rebel claims a lie.
The United Nations is sheltering some 20,000 civilians in its overcrowded camp in Malakal. Up to 10,000 people are believed to have been killed so far in the violent clashes between Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and militia forces headed by Machar.
Violence erupted in South Sudan on December 15, 2013, after President Salva Kiir accused opposition leader, Machar, of attempting to stage a coup. Machar denied the accusation.
According to the United Nations, about 400,000 civilians have fled their homes in the wake of violence in the world’s newest nation over the past month.