Opposition forces in South Sudan accused the government of violating the cessation of hostilities agreement signed less than two weeks ago with an attack Wednesday on a rebel-held position near Malakal.
"Once again, the government forces and their militias attacked our positions today in the morning at a place called Ashab al Nil and Jonglei Canal," Lual Koang, a spokesman for the opposition forces that have been fighting troops loyal to President Salva Kiir since mid-December, said.
Koang said opposition forces were able to repel the attack by SPLA soldiers, and fighters under the command of Johnson Olony, a former militia leader who was integrated into the national army last year.
Koang also said Wednesday that a large number of soldiers have defected from the SPLA and sided with the rebels.
But government spokesman Michael Makuei said "only a few" SPLA soldiers -- all from the same ethnic group as former vice president Riek Machar, who recently announced that he has formed a resistance movement against Kiir -- had gone over to the rebel side. Makuei also denied that the SPLA was involved in the attack near Malakal.
‘’We have not been attacking any positions of the rebels," he told VOA, insisting that the government is abiding by the terms of the cessation of hostilities agreement signed by the two sides in Addis Ababa on Jan. 23.
"We, as a government, are bound by and respect and conform to the cessation of hostilities. We have not attacked any positions," he said, laying the blame for the violation of the Addis Ababa agreement with the rebels.
"We have been on record saying that the rebels have been consistently attacking our forces wherever they are," Makuei said.
"The rebels have no presence south of Malakal... They are the ones attacking our forces," he said.
It was impossible to confirm the claims of either side with independent sources.
The accusation marks the second time this week that the opposition has accused the government of violating the ceasefire agreement.
On Monday, Koang said government forces, together with rebels from Sudan, attacked Leer town over the weekend and killed civilians as they tried to flee the fighting.
Leer is the hometown in Unity state of Machar, who has been accused by Kiir of triggering weeks of violence in the country by trying to oust him in what the government says was a coup bid on Dec. 15. Machar has denied the charge.
The two sides in the conflict in South Sudan are due to resume talks to hammer out a lasting peace on Feb. 7.