Troops loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar have engaged the SPLA in Pagak town.

Heavy fighting between South Sudan’s warring factions broke out in South Sudan’s Pagak town, the main rebel headquarters located at the Ethiopian border.

The fighting broke out hours after a plane from Juba took off from Pagak airport.

Sounds of heavy artillery and explosions could be heard from 30 kilometers (18 miles) away, causing civilians in the surrounding areas to flee.

South Sudanese rebels say they launched the attack after government forces refused to surrender or vacate their stronghold, Pagak.

“We told them to leave Pagak or surrender, but they refused. So, we decided to attack them,” Deputy Commanding General of the SPLA-IO 5th Division Major General James Ochan Puot said.

On Monday, the SPLA-IO urged Pagak residents to stay in their homes, warning of the imminent attack and suggested that government troops surrender ‘before it is too late’.

A rebel military intelligence agent told the South Sudan News Agency that their intelligence branches and contacts in neighboring countries knew that a military airplane loaded with government troops, weapons, and ammunition was scheduled to arrive in Pagak Thursday evening. The officer asserted that they are prepared to ‘teach government troops a good lesson’.

A SSNA crew embedded with the SPLA-IO commanding Generals have been prohibited by the armed opposition to fully cover the fighting, citing their military combat rules which exclude civilians in active war zones.