April 28, 2013 (JUBA) - The spokesperson for the South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM/A) has denied the group was among thousands of rebel fighters that surrendered to the government after accepting an amnesty offer by president Salva Kiir.
- South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army rebels (AFP)
The deal has raised hopes of an end to nearly three years of upheaval concentrated along strategic border areas with neighbouring Sudan.
According to reports by Reuters some 3,000 rebel fighters from the South Sudan
Liberation Army (SSLA) crossed the border from Sudan with about 100 trucks and handed over their weapons to authorities in oil rich Unity state, which lies on the border between the two countries.
The apparent mass surrender of troops came after Kiir on Friday repeated an amnesty offer first made to rebel commanders ahead of South Sudan’s independence in 2011.
The SSLA, which formed in the late 1990s, is one of largest rebel groups in the region and switched sides several times during the north-South civil war.
However, SSDM/A spokesperson Col. Peter Kobrin Konyi described media reports to the effect that all South Sudanese rebels had surrendered to the government as “baseless and untrue”.
He also cited one press statement that claimed the SSDM/A and the now defunct South Sudan Defence Force (SSDF) were all part of the capitulating forces.
The statement which was seen by Sudan Tribune, was issued on Friday and carries the signature of Gordon Buay, who identified himself as spokesman of the coalition.
“The leadership of SSLA, SSDA and SSDF is very thankful to president Kiir for promoting the unity of the people of South Sudan”, Buay said in the statement.
“Because South Sudan needs development, peace and forgiveness, we have decided to end rebellion in South Sudan and ordered all rebel forces to interact with the SPLA until the integration is complete,” he adds.
However, Konyi on Sunday clarified that it was only SSLA forces that had accepted the amnesty deal, and reported to Unity’s state’s Mayom county to surrender their weapons.
In a statement extended to Sudan Tribune, Konyi said the group still had genuine grievances against the South Sudanese government.
“Lack of will from the government’s side to address these matters left us with no option but to take up arms, exactly for the same reason the SPLA [South Sudanese army] did so when the successive governments in Khartoum turned a deaf ear to the just demands of the South Sudanese. These grievances are still outstanding”, Konyi said in the statement.
“We are not war mongers but are seeking a serious peaceful resolution the armed conflict through dialogue and negotiations,” he added.
He also questioned the credibility of the amnesty, saying the government had made no direct contact with the group after its initial public announcement.
“If the Government of the Republic of South Sudan is serious about a negotiated peaceful settlement to the current conflict in the country, then as the government of the day, they should address us directly on the matter rather than resorting to mass media. They know how to get us”, he said.
Konyi said the past experiences of several rebel leaders at the hands of the South Sudanese government following their defection, including David Yau Yau, showed they had good reason to take such amnesty offers “with a grain of salt”.
“[An] amnesty itself does not solve outstanding problems; it rather is an expression of good will to do so.
The SSDM/A was formed in 2010 by former SPLA general George Athor after he failed in his bid to become governor of Jonglei state. He was killed by South Sudanese troops in December 2011. Many of the movement’s fighters are from the minority Murle tribe, which is locked in a long-running dispute with the rival Lou Nuer tribe over grazing rights.
South Sudan has struggled to contain several armed groups it says are receiving support from the Sudanese government, a claim which Khartoum denies.
In return, Sudan accuses South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) of still maintaining relations with its former allies - the SPLM-North - who are currently fighting the government in the Sudanese border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.