Juba — South Sudanese authorities have ordered security forces to shoot dead anyone found to be violating a renewed night curfew imposed by the government as tension continues to rise over federalism debate in the country.
Interior minister Aleu Ayieny Aleu on Monday ordered his security operatives to go on a "shoot-to-kill" mission against night-time curfew violators, which the government has resolved to impose daily from 8pm to 6am.
"Please work with me and I will work with you to implement this resolution of the council [of minister]. The shoot-to-kill order was passed by the council. It is not an individual order," he told the security forces.
Aleu said the resolution was agreed upon by the council of ministers last month.
President Salva Kiir last year issued an order imposing dusk to dawn curfew time in Juba when fighting broke out in December. It runs from 11pm to 6am, but it appears the authorities have now moved it back to 8pm from 1pm.
Citizens are thus demanded to remain indoors after dusk.
"It is only witches who move at night. They steal and kill our people ... shoot them. We have to strike hard to stop this problem, so now, even civilians cannot move about at night," the minister further ordered.
Observers say the renewed harsh order to kill is a direct response to the growing tensions over the debate about federalism, which the government sees as a threat to dismantle power from the centre.
"They [government] see the rising debate in favour of federalism in the country as a threat to the centred power by the clique. They confiscate newspapers that publish the debate. Now they attempt to silence after-work debates in evening social gatherings in town," an insider told Sudan Tribune on Monday.
In the Western Equatoria town of Maridi at least three people were killed last week by security forces after they were overheard in a bar discussing federalism.
Last month, president Kiir cautioned lawmakers against falling into the trap of federalism, saying the issue was designed by rebel leader, Riek Machar allegedly to dismantle or split what he described as the "internal front".
He said the issue of federalism should be handled through a referendum by the people, warning it should not be imposed on the people by the rebels.
In reaction, the rebels said a decision on how to adopt or implement federalism would only be made during peace talks.
"An agreement on how to adopt or implement federalism would be reached in the negotiations by the two warring parties. Whether or not it is going to be confirmed in a referendum will have to be negotiated," said James Gatdet Dak, spokesman for rebel leader Riek Machar.
Dak, however, said citizens should not be prevented from discussing it individually or in public gatherings.
"This should not become a taboo. Individuals and civil society groups should not be barred from discussing federalism anywhere in the country and abroad," he said, adding that the leadership of the opposition was encouraging such debates and had been consulting with representatives of civil society organisations and individuals to seek their views on the future system of governance in the country.
The armed opposition group has tabled federalism in IGAD-mediated peace talks as the future system of governance to be adopted in resolving the six-month old political crisis in the country, arguing the system has been demanded by the people since 1947 and will help promote cultural diversity i the country have and devolve powers to the states.
UNIVERSITY OPENS FEDERALISM DEBATE
However, despite growing threats by the government against the debate over the federal system of governance, the University of Juba provided a rare chance for public debate on the matter.
A debate organised on federalism by the university drew several renowned scholars from within the country and abroad in a forum moderated by former presidential affairs minister Luka Biong Deng on Saturday.
Government officials, diplomats, civil society groups, political parties and students attended the occasion.
A leading scholar and historian on South Sudanese affairs, Douglas Johnson said it was incorrect by some to fear federalism by wrongly equating it to Kokora, a particularism move by Equatorians in 1980s.
During his lecture, Douglas said Kokora should not be considered as a system of government.
"Let us be clear, Kokora is not the same as federalism. Federalism is a government system that splits powers between a central authority and state governments," he explained.
The veteran historian who wrote many books on South Sudan said he observed that the federalism debate has been complicated by the ongoing crisis in the country, saying "one side (the armed opposition) has adopted federalism as a political platform while the other side (the government) views it as a version of disloyalty".
STUDENTS IN FAVOUR OF FEDERALISM
Meanwhile, a poll taken on 15 December 2013, a day which coincided with the birth of the current crisis, indicated that 67% of the students at the University of Juba were in favour of a federal system of governance.
The poll which was revealed on Saturday was conducted on the basis of the three former regional entities.
Juba university students from the Greater Equatoria region voted 87.8% in favour of federalism, while 40% of Greater Upper Nile students and 18.2% of students from Greater Bahr el Ghazal region supported the system.
In reaction, a former minister and member of the former detainees, Majak D'Agoot, said the findings were obvious, adding that the situation had changed over the past six months which would have impacted new choices for individual students in favour or against federalism.
"In my view, these are good findings even though they are obvious facts that we all know and actually are incongruent to this particular study," Agoot said.
He however said the debate should not be confined to authorities, adding this should be open to the wider public.
"Whilst we recognise the efforts exerted by the author to enrich the conversation, debate about federalism should not be stifled by the authorities and all patriotic South Sudanese should work hard to de-ethnicise it and organise it within the confines of a nation-building agenda in order to help in attaining a national consensus and dispel Kokora-phobia and its attendant reminiscences from its gist and substance," he wrote.