July 4, 2011 (BENTIU) - The governor of Unity State Taban Deng Gai has sacked the commisioner of Mayom County after he accused the South Sudan army of killing over 200 civilians and burning down over 7,000 homes in May this year.
- SPLA soldiers (Reuters)
South Sudan’s army - the SPLA - is in the process of transforming itself from the rebel army that fought over two decades of civil war into a national army, as the the South approaches independence on July 9.
The Mayom commisioner Charles Machieng Kuol alleged that on 21 May the SPLA destroyed civilian property as it chased a rebel militia group out of the area. He went on to condemn the SPLA and accuse them of terrorising citizens from his county.
Over the last one month, Machieng has been under pressure from the state governor Gai to apologise for his comments. After he failed to so he was dismissed on June 30.
Charles Machieng Kuol confirmed that he had been fired on Friday in a interview with Sudan Tribune. Although governors are elected in South Sudan, County Commisioners are not and are appointed at the will of the governor.
The former commisioner said that although he had been relieved of his position investigations would still go ahead into the burning of 7,800 homes and what he described as a massacre by the SPLA in Mayom County under the authorisation of the state leadership.
Kuol added that he has faced continuing pressure to retract his statements on the incident to the media, accusing the SPLA of torturing and killing civilians.
However, SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer has denied that the government of South Sudan directed the military to kill civilians and burn down thousands of homes.
Members from the Mayom community are seeking ways to file investigations into what they say was a massacre by the SPLA.
More than two hundreds of civilians were killed in the clashes according to the outgoing commissioner in Mayom County.
According to UN figures 1,800 people have been killed through cattle-raiding and conflict between South Sudan’s numerous rebel groups and the SPLA so far this year.
Many rebel groups began fighting the SPLA and South Sudan government after elections in April last year after candidates they supported failed to win seats as MPs or as state governors.
This year senior SPLA figure, Peter Gadet defected and formed his own group vowing to overthrow the Juba government, accusing officials of corruption and tribalism. International members of the Nuer community have claimed that there tribe have suffered war crimes at the hands of Dinka elements of the SPLA. Gadet, a Nuer, has tried to use Mayom County as the base for his insurgency.
In a statement to world leaders the Nuer community have asked that the International Criminal Court investigate the SPLA’s actions in Mayom.
Gadet integrated his forces into the SPLA in 2006 after the South’s peace deal in 2005 made the SPLA the official army of the region. During the civil war Gadet was backed by Khartoum a relationship the SPLA allege has continued after his defection. The NCP deny that they assist any of South Sudan’s rebel groups.
The SPLA is reguarly accused of human rights abuses. A secret UN report seen by Associated Press says that a 700-member battalion of SPLA commandos ’fired indiscriminately on unarmed men, women and children during an attack on a rival ethnic group at a remote Nile River village in Jonglei state, killing or wounding hundreds of civilians, according to witness accounts’.
In an attempt to professionalise the southern military as it prepares to become a national army the US is spending nearly $100 million a year on training the SPLA.