September 25, 2013 (RUMBEK) - South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit arrived in Lakes state to address a public rally in Rumbek’s Freedom Square, which was attended by thousands of people on Wednesday.
Kiir had last visited Lakes state while campaigning ahead of elections in April 2010. The long absence has angered some residents, who see the long wait as a slight against the troubled central state.
The president said that his work on national issues in capital Juba, as well as international commitments, had left no time to schedule a visit Rumbek in the last three and a half years.
Kiir reminded those present of the historical importance of Rumbek, which was headquarters of the SPLM/SPLA for a period before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended decades of north-south civil war and resulted in South Sudan’s independence in 2011.
The president also mentioned the internal differences within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), asserting that any member of the party would be expelled if they do not abide by the SPLM’s rules and regulations.
In August Kiir sacked his vice president Riek Machar after he publicly put himself forward to replace Kiir as the SPLM’s chairperson and the party’s candidate for the 2015 elections.
Another senior figure, Pagan Amum, was recently suspended from his position as the SPLM’s secretary general after criticising Kiir’s leadership of the party in the South Sudanese press.
Kiir said that those who disagreed with way he was running the SPLM could "set up their parties".
As in recent speech in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, Kiir did not mention the issue of the disputed region of Abyei on the border with Sudan.
Abyei residents have called for a unilateral referendum if the Sudan government does not agree to holding the vote in October as has been proposed by the African Union’s panel on the Sudans. However, on Tuesday, the Peace and Security Council of the pan-African body has urged Abyei’s Dinka Ngok tribe not take any such action.
Kiir appealed to the inhabitants of Lakes state to disengage from the internal ethnic conflicts that have blighted Lakes state since independence.
Witnesses at the address said that some citizens began to leave Freedom Square during the speech as Kiir had failed to mention the human rights situation in Lakes state or the Abyei stalemate.
The president will also spend Thursday Rumbek, when he is due to meet SPLM members of the Lakes state Legislative Assembly, including officials from the party’s secretariat. He will also meet the Lakes state caretaker governor, MPs and local leaders to get a briefing on security and other issues.
President Kiir said in his rally on Wednesday that caretaker military governor Matur Chuol Dhuol will be kept in power for the time being. Under South Sudan’s transitional constitution, an election should have taken place within three months of Kiir sacking Dhuol’s predecessor, Chol Tong Mayay in January 2013.
Despite repeated calls for an election by activists and criticism of Dhuol’s harsh tactics in addressing insecurity, Kiir said that Dhoul will remain in power for the foreseeable future.
On September 20, a leading journalist from Lakes state, Manyang Mayom Meen sent a letter to president Kiir expressing his alarm at the measures used to try and restore security to Lakes state.
Mayom, who won an international human rights award in 2010, had previously written to Kiir in March calling on the president to ask the security services to stop the ill-treatment of civilians in Lakes state.