Juba — The former Commissioner of Wau County, John Peter Miskin, said Sunday that 25 people had been killed after South Sudan's army fired live bullets on a group protesting against the administrative headquarters in the county being moved.
However, the Governor of Western Bahr el Ghazal, Rizik Zachariah Hassan, has denied that the military (SPLA) opened fire on civilians, describing media reports quoting United Nations as "unverified".
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) told the press on Sunday that six people were killed late on Saturday when the SPLA attempted to remove road blocks established in protest against the administrative changes. Then early on Sunday morning, UNMISS said, four more people were killed when a group marched into Wau town to petition the Governor.
Later on Sunday Governor Hassan issued an order imposing a curfew on Wau town from 7pm to 7am.
Former Commissioner Miskin, told Sudan Tribune on Sunday that the SPLA fired "live bullets indiscriminately on the innocent civilians protesting their rights."
Miskin said the protesters had been killed purely because they told "the government that the decision it has taken is not constitutional". In October Miskin resigned from his position as Wau County Commissioner in protest against the decision of the Western Bahr el Ghazal State cabinet to relocate the headquarters of Wau County to its original place in Bagari,
The Deputy Speaker of Western Bahr el Ghazal Legislative Assembly, Edward Ukungeri, confirmed that protesters had been killed but did not give a death toll. He warned that the government "will bear full responsibility" for lost of lives in the clash.
The decision of the Western Bahr el Ghazal cabinet to to move the headquarters of Wau County, had not been endorsed the state's parliament, he said.
"We asked the government to sit down with people to discuss the matter but it is now becoming something else. They are killing innocent civilians. Will this work? The people who took this decision, whether as individuals or as government will bear full responsibility. You cannot kill people because they do not accept your decision", Ukungeri said.
Governor Hassan told Sudan Tribune on Sunday that he was not aware of any protesters being killed by the SPLA but said he had "formed a security committee to investigate the incident".
The Western Bahr el Ghazal government, he said, has taken emergency measures by increasing the number regular police forces in Wau town and reinforcing a SPLA unit in the area.
Hassan said in a separate statement on Sunday announcing the curfew: "Anybody in possession of illegal fire arms should hand them over to any person in police headquarters and any person who contravenes this order shall be dealt according to the law,"
The UN said on Sunday that it was not clear whether any of the protesters were armed. South Sudan's army has also cast doubt over the authenticity of the UN reports that people had been shot by the country's army.
Colonel Kella Kueth, the SPLA's deputy spokesperson, told Sudan Tribune that the matter "is being investigated but I don't know SPLA forces on the ground were involved."
Wau County has had its headquarters in Wau town since the Sudanese civil war which ended in 2005. However, in October the state cabinet passed a resolution instructing the county commissioner to move the headquarters to its original location in Bagari, following creation of municipality and appointment of a mayor.
Jur River County, which also had its headquarters in Wau town, was relocated to Nyinakok on 22 October after it was also instructed to move.
Officials from the government including Governor Hassan argue that the cabinet's decision was constitutional, as it was meant to take services to closer to people in rural areas in order to manage rural-urban migration.
Many citizens complain that the state's administration has done little to improve living conditions and live up to promises made by South Sudan's governing Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the 2010 general election campaign.
The SPLM was the political wing of the SPLA before a 2005 peace deal ended decades of conflict with north Sudan. South Sudan gained independence in 2011 as part of the peace agreement.
In Western Bahr el Ghazal, as with the rest of South Sudan, the SPLM won almost all the seats in the state's parliament.
Although the area is considered one of the more peaceful states in the country, concerns relating to law and order in some parts of the state have drawn the attention of the local population and authorities. Banditry and attacks at night have become more regular, according to local people.
Rizik Dominic Samuel, a security adviser to the Governor, told Sudan Tribune that the investigation committee is collecting details of the incident and that it was too early for him to give figures relating to the incident.
Samuel said protesters have abandoned the simplest ways of passing grievances of concerned citizens to the government but instead decided to resort to violence, including wanting to burn the local branch of South Sudan's Central Bank.
"They wanted to enter the branch of the central bank. Their intention was to burn it down after taking away money in it. They wanted to do exactly what they did yesterday. They attacked police camp in Hai Kosti and burning it down to ashes. They also made an attempt to force their way into the state secretariat and the Governor's residence before being dispersed by the Governor's guards.
WAU COMMISSIONER SAYS POLITICIANS BEHIND PROTESTS
On Friday Wau County's Commissioner, Elia Kamilo Dimo, had urged those protesting against the relocation of the county headquarters to observe the law.
"There is this mentality of using local people as scapegoats by some politicians to cover up their failures when they are dismissed from the government. This practice is killing a lot and must not be allowed. There are people using youths to cause chaos [...] to draw the attention of the government, so that they can get what they want. They see violence as an easy way to get it," Dimo said on Friday.
The Commissioner said that some youths from the area had "unilaterally" decided to block major roads in the area and "falsely" report the government to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
"They have forgotten that this is the government which they elected themselves. It is their government and they have the right to sit down and discuss with authorities issues of concerns instead of going to outsiders with false accusations, just because some people are using them," said Dimo.
He claimed one of the reasons why the headquarters of the two counties was moved was because they were occupying school premises.
He also accused his predecessor, John Peter Miskin, and other high-level politicians from the area of instigating the youth to demonstrate and block roads leading out to Western Equatoria State and areas including Baggari and Raja county.
According to Dimo, Miskin "did not call meetings with chiefs and intellectuals from the area to clearly explain to them the decision to relocate the headquarters of Jur River and Wau counties."
Dimo said he held a successful meeting on Friday with chiefs, payam [district] administrators and intellectuals from the area to brief them on the cabinet decision to relocate the county headquarters and why he thinks it will benefit the local population.