15 January 2013

South Sudan: Western Bahr El Ghazal Stages Demonstration Against Sudanese Attack in Raja

Wau — Thousands of peaceful demonstrators on Tuesday took to the streets of Wau, the capital of South Sudan's Western Bahr el Ghazal state to strongly condemn a ground and air attack allegedly launched by Sudanese Armed Forces in Kitkit, 119 kilometer north of its Raja County.

The raid on 2 January, which military sources say claimed lives of more than 32 soldiers and wounded several others, reportedly caught the South Sudanese army (SPLA) unprepared while conducting a parade, overrunning a military base and killing "significant" numbers of the armed forces in the area before being repulsed in late December.

Sudan periodically denies bombing South Sudanese territory, but says it does attack Sudanese rebels who it claims are using the South as a base and resupply route. This is denied by Juba, but the issue has delayed the implementation of a Cooperation Agreement the two countries signed in September last year.

The peaceful procession in solidarity with the state government kicked-off at freedom square in down town Wau, where senior government officials, accorded protesters the opportunity to present to Governor Rizik Zachariah Hassan, memos condemning the attack and expressed their resolve to defend the area.

Source: Justin Saleh, Press Secretary to W. Bahr el Ghazal Governor Rizik Zachariah Hassan.

One protestor's banner said : "No to oppression and never surrender to forces of brutality". Others sang chants against the Sudanese government.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011 as part of a 2005 peace deal, but the two have had a tense relationship as many issues remain unresolved.

South Sudan has referred the incident to the United Nations Security Council. The protestors called on the international community to hold Sudan responsible.

Some of the protestors were overcome with emotion when they came face-to-face with the state's leaders, while others carried banners to show their indignation to the attack which most of them said has been imposed on the country.

They issued a declaration at the end of the procession, which culminated in a brief meeting when they came face-to-face with Governor Hassan who had earlier condemned the aggression and called on youth to provide support to the South Sudan's army (SPLA).

Addressing the gathering shortly after receiving the declaration, Governor Hassan thanked the citizens for showing solidarity and patriotism. He warned Sudan against such aggression, but hoped that dialogue could resolve the tensions between the two sides.

Source: Justin Saleh, Press Secretary to W. Bahr el Ghazal Governor Rizik Zachariah Hassan.

Governor Hassan said: "The reason why we have resorted to political dialogue as the way to addressing differences is not that we are not capable of getting our right but because we do not believe in violence. But it is becoming clearer that our love for peace and respect for sovereignty o other independent nation is being exploited. It is being misunderstood to mean our weakness. And the war is being deliberately imposed on us. Our innocent civilians are being killed and the international community is silence. Will they not talk when we react?"

Handing over the declaration to the governor, a protester, who identified himself as Gabriel Sabit, said: "The people of Western Bahr el Ghazal acting in solidarity with you, Your Excellency, hereby show our grievances and total condemnation of wanton and unwarranted and pre-empty strive through this popular demonstration. Considering the fact that South Sudan gained her independence just a year ago after long struggle which further guarantees as registered not only a sovereign nation but a people who will determine their future forever and ever to the community of nations and the world over. This group of demonstrators coming from different communities of this state, hereby therefore resolves that we solidly stand behind you and fully support your position and the government in relation to aggression by the government in Khartoum".

Sabit said the behavior of the Sudanese armed forces undermines the peace and stability being enjoyed in the country.

"We people hereby demand that the international community take up the matter with the issue and hold Sudan responsible for crimes it is committing against our innocent civilians along border areas," he said.

Major General Chol Thon, the SPLA's fifth division commander 15 January 2013 (Source: Justin Saleh, Press Secretary to W. Bahr el Ghazal Governor Rizik Zachariah Hassan)

Major General Chol Thon, the SPLA's fifth division commander assured the demonstrators of the capability of the armed forces to deal with the Sudanese military, but that they were giving diplomatic efforts a chance.

"They are practicing hit and run style kind of attack. They do not sustain it because they know very our strength. They tested it last year in Panthou. I was there myself and I know bravery our soldiers and determination to deal with them. In just few hours of our response, they were out in trenches running like women. They did not wait to engage us. If this is what they want; they should attack on the ground if they are men. We'll welcome them with open arms," Thon told demonstrators.

The senior military official wondered why the international community was reluctant to pressure Sudan to respect and honour all the agreements it has signed with the leadership of the new nation and continue to stand by it without persuading it to cease hostilities and implement all the deals as required.

Source: Justin Saleh, Press Secretary to W. Bahr el Ghazal Governor Rizik Zachariah Hassan.

"Sudan is just playing for time. It's urgent that the international community gets involved," he said.

"Everybody talks about the threat of global security, but then where is the global response", he further asked.


Meanwhile, Thon used the event as an opportunity to appeal for return of those citizens who may have fled Wau town in December when protestors were suspected to have been shot by police.

The police have denied killing any civilians, but government sources indicate that 20 people were killed in the protests triggered by the announcement that the administrative headquarters of Wau County would be relocated to Bagari.

A further 26 people were reportedly killed in Farajallah. Investigations into the violence are ongoing.

"I called on our people to return if at all there [were] people who fled this town because of fear. There is no reason to live in fear. This is your country. You must live and work wherever you want. What happened in December should never happen again and whatever happened, whether it was done by the organized forces or by criminals within the organized forces, will never be allowed to happen", Thon said.


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