21 December 2013

South Sudan: Unity State's Fourth Division Commander Defects, Assumes Governorship

Bentiu — The fourth division commander of South Sudan's army in oil-producing Unity state has declared that he has deposed the caretaker governor and that his forces were no longer loyal to President Salva Kiir.

Speaking over state and private radio stations on Saturday morning, James Koang Chuol said he had overthrown governor, Joseph Nguen Monytuel after uncovering an alleged plot to have him assassinated.

Koang said that the fourth division's tank unit allegedly tried to kill him at around 7pm on Friday evening upon being ordered by Monytuel at the behest of senior members of the military in Juba.

Addressing the people of Unity state, Koang ordered the state ministers to remain in their homes, but called on civil servants to continue working as normal.

The fourth division commander said president Kiir, his vice president and the former caretaker governor of Unity state had fueled the fighting that has now spread throughout the country, since it began in the capital, Juba on 15 December.

Human Rights Watch and other sources have reported that some of the fighting in Juba targeted citizens on the basis of their tribe, after clashes between Dinka and Nuer members of the presidential guard.

The violence comes after severe tension with senior members of South Sudan's ruling party (SPLM) following the dismissal of the country's cabinet, vice president and the suspension of the SPLM's secretary general Pagan Amum earlier in July.

President Kiir has accused his opponents within the SPLM of staging a coup and has arrested at least 11 senior figures. Former vice president Riek Machar, whom Kiir accuses of masterminding the alleged plot, is now on the run, but advised the latter to step down.

Machar told the former BBC correspondent, James Copnall that Koang was the new governor of Unity state, while Peter Gadet who is fighting for control Bor, is the military governor of Unity state.

The ex-vice president confirmed that he was now in rebellion and the former Unity state governor Taban Deng who was sacked earlier this year was physically with him.

Machar said that he would only enter talk talks if all those detained were allowed safe passage to a neighbouring country like Ethiopia.

UNITY STATE DIVIDED

Commander Koang has ordered Deng's successor, who he described as the "former" governor of Unity state to "report himself to the state government" adding that the consequence of not doing so "shall not be blamed on us."

While speaking over Bentiu FM 99 Koang called on all soldiers under his control to respect diversity of all South Sudan's tribes not target any individual on the basis of their ethnicity.

He said he was working to bring peace for all South Sudanese whatever their despite their religion, tribes or clan.

He urged his men to refrain from taking revenge for the violence of the week and said he had been forced to take control of Unity state for the welfare of all South Sudanese citizens.

Koang called on the people of Unity state to remain calm, adding that his forces were willing to protect them with their lives.

Speaking to Sudan Tribune after his radio address, Koang reiterated that his actions were prompted by the alleged assassination attempt against him by the state's tank unit.

"We have been targeted. I myself, I was targeted and the leadership of the South Sudan ordered the major, commanding officer of tanks unit, to kill me. But I thank God I was not killed in that incident yesterday and my forces manage to control the situation by fighting the tanks", he said by phone.

Wang Chok, a brigadier general in Unity state's fourth division described Friday's take over of the state as a "coordinated action".

"What had happened yesterday was [a] coordinated action that was coordinated from Juba together with the former caretaker governor Unity state [Joseph Nguen Monytuel] and that coordinated action was an action to kill the whole command" of the SPLA's fourth division", he told Sudan Tribune.

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