Juba — The South Sudanese defence minister said on Saturday army (SPLA) been has given been strict instructions to observe the rules of engagement and respect the rights of all the citizens, regardless of their views or political affiliations.
"The duty of any army anywhere [in the] world over is to protect civilians and their properties in addition to defending a country against external harm," said Kuol Manyang Juuk told Sudan Tribune in an exclusive interview.
"The SPLA has done very well in protecting civilians and their properties and would like to maintain this," he added.
Juuk said civilians who were unable to cross to government-controlled areas after conflict erupted in the country in mid-December last year should be assisted and given due respect at any point of contact with forces from the national army (SPLA).
"Clear administrative orders have been given and the SPLA has shown compliance. So far, there [are] no cases where SPLA forces in their areas of operations have been accused of targeting civilians," said Juuk.
"They have upheld to their job to protect civilians and their properties and I would therefore like to stress to all the SPLA and the other forces in the country to observe [the] strict rules of engagement. The necessity of strict and full commitment in taking care of the rights of all the people is one of the duties of the army and it should be respected and adhered to," he added.
The minister said that the army should not go target any innocent unarmed civilians "no matter their views or political affiliation or whatever their political stance".
The directive comes after civilians were reportedly targeted during clashes in Western Equatoria state's Maridi town earlier this month over what authorities claimed was a misunderstanding arising from ongoing debate over federalism in the country.
Local officials accused a government soldier of shooting dead one person and wounding another.
The local community retaliated by killing the government soldier, while another was injured.
The incident prompted president Kiir to send a delegation under the leadership of his deputy foreign affairs minister and the RMY'S chief of general staff to pay a visit.
The situation had now been brought under control, although there have been unconfirmed reports of individual members being taken away by security forces and disappearing.
Two days ago, three corpses, blindfolded and handcuffed, were allegedly found south-west of Maridi town. Their identities remain unknown.
Locals in the area say the dead are men who were taken away by security forces, although Sudan Tribune has been unable to independently verify the claims.
Rebel forces engaged in an armed struggle with the government following a political split in the ruling SPLM are demanding the introduction of a federal system of governance, which they say will promote cultural diversity and a more equitable distribution of resources.
The calls have attracted growing public support across South Sudan, but president Salva Kiir has rejected the demands, saying restoring peace and stability to the country should be a priority.