23 February 2013

South Sudan: SPLA Will Defend Its Territory From Sudan's Aggression - Official

Bentiu — The South Sudanese army (SPLA) will fight to protect its people and the country's territorial integrity, should Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) invade the new nation, its fourth division commander in Unity State has assured.

James Koang Chol, the SPLA fourth division commander in Unity state, February 23, 2013 (ST)

Speaking exclusively to Sudan Tribune on Saturday, James Koang Chol said the SPLA forces have been monitoring operations of SAF and its allied militias in neighbouring South Kordofan state, further accusing the Sudanese army of continuously bombing its territories.

"They have bombed our side, [but] we in the SPLA are in our position, specially this division. We have not moved any inches to the north, but they [SAF] have bombed our position in Jau [in Unity state], in which we lost one of SPLA soldier and some of the civilians were injured" said Chol.

The SPLA division commander warned that the southern army would retaliate, if provoked into war by Khartoum, as part of its mandate to protect South Sudan's territorial integrity.

Last week, the SPLA accused the Sudanese army of bombing Jau area in its Unity state, killing two people and several cattle. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) also confirmed the attack, which it claims occurred in a "contested" region.

Chol, however, insists South Sudan remains committed to the implementation of the September cooperation agreement, both Presidents Salva Kiir and his Sudanese counterpart, Omer al Bashir signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Since then, implementation of the agreements on security and economic matters, as well as call for a demilitarized zone along the border and the creation of a "soft border" have made very little progress.

Early this year, talks between the two parties failed after disagreements emerged over security, border demarcation and the final status of the disputed Abyei area. The situation has caused a stalemate between the two countries, with Khartoum refusing to accept passage of South Sudan's oil flows through its territories, unless Juba ends its alleged support for SPLM-N rebels, which is fighting the Sudanese army in the north's restive Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

During the interview, Chol said failure by the Sudanese army to withdraw from the disputed regions as stipulated in the cooperation agreement on security, could result into a bitter contest between the two armies.

"We cannot remain idle [and] we cannot remain as if our hands are tied, while the people of South Sudan are being killed. We are here to defend the people of South Sudan, [but] if they [SAF] continue bombing our position, definitely there will be a war", the fourth division commander told Sudan Tribune.

South Sudan's Kiir recently ordered the army to mobilise against any aggression from neighbouring Sudan, and instructed the governors in Border States to remain vigilant of the security situation.

Both Bashir and Kiir, according to South Sudan's information minister, are due to meet at an AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia next month. The need to expedite implementation of the cooperation agreement, Benjamin Marial said, is likely to dominate the meeting of the two leaders.

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