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Friday, January 30, 1998 Published at 16:29 GMT

World: Analysis

The battle for control of southern Sudanese town

The Sudan People's Liberation Army has said it has captured strategic areas of the second largest town in the south of the country, Wau. The leader of the SPLA, John Garang, told the BBC that the attack was lead by General Cherubino Kwanyan Bol, who was one of the SPLA leaders who broke away from Garang last April to sign peace accords with Khartoum. The government has acknowleged the defection, but strongly denied that they have lost Wau. Kate Clark reports:

Wau is a strategically vital town in the south. It's the government's main centre for supplying its forces in the region, with an important railway terminus and a road to the first town of the south, Juba.

The fate of Wau is still unclear. Khartoum insists that government forces remain in control but according to the leader of the SPLA, John Garang -- speaking to the BBC overnight -- heavy fighting is continuing.

He said his forces have captured six areas of the town, including the main garrison, airport and railway station. In the last few months, the government has made much of defections and desertions of SPLA fighters.

Garang says the offensive on Wau is their answer to this:

"Khartoum has been making a lot of propaganda about several thousand SPLA soldiers having surrendered in Mariel Bay area and this was, I would call it, the mother of all deceptions.

"While they were singing that song, we were doing the real job, we infiltrated our forces into Wau. We have already taken 180 prisoners of war, including a major. I have no details as to how many have died, so far."

According to the SPLA, Wau was captured by their soldiers managing to enter the town by saying they wanted to defect and ally themselves with General Cherubino Kwanyah Bol.

He was one of the leading SPLA figures who signed a peace accord with Khartoum last April. John Garang says General Cherubino was playing a double role and proved pivotal to the offensive:

"He's fully in this plan and is in charge of the operation itself inside Wau town. His forces and our forces have joined together and are the ones now taking Wau. We have been in contact with him for several months, now, through third parties and our forces have been working with him over the last two weeks."

Khartoum has acknowledged that General Cherumbino defected, but have tried to downplay its significance. The situation in Wau remains unclear, but how well SPLA has done in Wau will be an indication of their probable prospects of any attempt to take Juba, the first town of the south.

If the SPLA has captured Wau through a sort of Trojan Horse trick, it will be a major victory. But, that trick can only be used once. The SPLA has long had its sights set on Juba, but any offensive on that heavily guarded town will have to be a straight fight.

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