5 January 2014

South Sudan: S. Sudan Rebels Claim Army Defections in Central Equatoria

Bentiu/Juba — The spokesperson for rebels opposed to President Salva Kiir in Unity state on Sunday claimed several soldiers mutinied in parts of Central Equatoria state towns and have now joined the opposition forces.

Peter Riek Gew told Sudan Tribune that soldier under the command of Brig. Gen. Nhial Wuothkak who defected in Central Equatoria had joined their cause and were allegedly advancing towards the country's capital, Juba.

The military spokesperson admitted some soldiers defected from their barracks in parts of the country's Central and Western Equatoria states, downplaying its impact.

"There is no sign of collapse in the army", Aguer told reporters on Sunday, stressing that army defection was part of any conflict.

Media institutions in South Sudan have also been warned against reporting on rebel any rebel claims of advancing towards the capital.

On Saturday President Kiir's spokesperson said that drunken soldiers were responsible for shooting in the same army barracks where infighting in mid-December between the presidential guards, triggered the current crisis.

Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar and others of attempting a coup, but this has been strongly denied.

The fighting in Juba led to reports that Nuer civilians were being targetted resulting in the Nuer generals defecting in Jonglei and Unity states. Civilians from the Dinka ethnic group have also been attacked in the conflict, most notably when around 20 civilians were killed after they sought shelter at a United Nations base in Jonglei state's Akobo county.

Both sides have sent delegations to peace talks in the Ethiopia capital, Addis-Ababa mediated by East African regional body (IGAD). However, the two sides are yet to reach a ceasefire agreement or hold direct talks.

Gew said that the rebels' preconditions for the talks were clear. The rebels are demanding that all political detainees be released.

"The 11 senior figures from South Sudan's ruling SPLM who were innocent", he said.

The government has so far agreed to release all, but three of the detainees.

In the weeks preceding the conflict, Kiir's oponents within the SPLM had become increasingly critical of his failure to allow a meeting in which the top members of the party could elect a new chairman ahead of the 2015 elections.

Kiir, who has been chairman since the death of John Garang in 2005, was expected to be challenged by Riek Machar, suspended SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum, and Garang's widow Rebecca Nyandeng.

"How many times did the detained politicians and the former vice president call for peacefully demonstration in the country, but Kiir himself disagreed with them because he knew that he has lost 100% support from the top party?" asked the rebel spokesman.

Gew said that the violence against civilians in Juba had forced many high ranking officials from the government and army to break away from Kiir's leadership.

A member of Unity state's parliament, who wished to remain anonymous, said that President Kiir should "tell the truth" about what happened in Juba during the first days of the conflict.

Those opposing Kiir say that by appearing in military fatigues and accusing Machar of staging a coup, he was attempting to use the army infighting to silence his critics.

The UN estimates that at least 1,000 people and nearly 200,000 have been displaced over the last three weeks of the conflict.

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