February 5, 2014 (JUBA) - A South Sudanese rebel commander in Upper Nile state, whose forces have previously shown allegiance to former vice-president Riek Machar, announced his rejection on Wednesday of a cessation of hostilities agreement signed by rebel forces during peace talks with the government last month.
- A senior rebel commander has accused South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, of hiring foreign troops to help government forces quash a spiralling rebellion in the country (Photo: Samir Bol/AFP/Getty Images)
According to a statement issued on 5 February, the rebel commander and former Nasir county commissioner, who identifies himself as General Gathoth Gatkouth, rejected the security deal.
Machar assumed leadership of various military forces who defected from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) in mid-December following clashes between rival factions of the presidential guards in the capital.
The outbreak of violence appears to have been triggered by mounting tensions within the country’s ruling party (SPLM) after president Salva Kiir sacked his entire cabinet last July, including his long-standing deputy.
The government has accused Machar and others of attempting to stage a coup, although this has been strenuously rejected by the former vice-president, as well as many political analysts.
“Many might have welcomed the news of the deal reached in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia a week ago on the cessation of hostility to the ongoing political crisis in the country, but I was not in support of that development from the onset. Instead, I was greatly troubled by it”, Gatkouth, a close associate of Machar, said in a statement.
“I have my own reservations for not welcoming the move. It was not simply for the obvious and predicted fact that the binding [agreement] would not be honoured by Salva Kiir, given his utmost evil intentions to quell the democratic pulses in the country through military means so that he remains in power until his death unopposed, rather, my utter rejection of the deal is on moral and legal grounds”, he added.
Reports of civilians being killed in Juba led to large parts of the army defecting in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, where many of those killed in the capital hailed from.
“We cannot make a deal with someone who has massacred his own citizens. This is my position as an area commander, and at the same time, the position of those I lead in Upper Nile State - the people whose beloved relatives have been killed in Juba, Bor, Malakal, Bentiu with the remnant of them [are] seeking protection in UNMISS (the UN Mission in South Sudan) compounds in their respective places until today”, Gatkouth said.
Close to a million people have been displaced by the fighting, according to UN estimates, with thousands of civilians seeking shelter at overcrowded UN compounds for fear of being attacked on the basis of their ethnicity.
The rebel officer accuses Kiir of using the country’s oil money to hire foreign troops – namely the Ugandan army (UPDF) and Sudanese rebels – to kill his own citizens on ethnic grounds.
“Ugandans and the Sudanese rebels from both Blue Nile and western Sudan have been captured alive in many battles we fought and won”, Gatkouth said.
“What legitimacy left to someone who is killing his own people with foreign allies? Salva [Kiir] has forgotten that these very people he is killing are the ones who had voted him into the office five years back”, he added.
In Jonglei, the Ugandan army helped the South Sudanese army recapture the state capital, Bor, despite initial denials from both Juba and Kampala.
He viewed the acceptance of negotiations with the government as a crime, stressing that Kiir must stand down.
In further demands, he also called for Upper Nile state to be liberated from government forces and said Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni must be held accountable for interfering in South Sudan’s affairs.
Machar’s spokesperson, James Dak, confirmed the authenticity of the statement when contacted by Sudan Tribune, but said the commander’s comments had been misconstrued.
“The press release was misinterpreted. What Gen Gathoth Gatkuoth did was to register his disappointment over the continuous violations of the cessation of hostilities agreement. He was issuing a warning that should Salva Kiir’s forces - plus their allied foreign troops - continue with such violations, his forces would fight back and move against the positions of the government. This is what I have just confirmed with the leadership on the ground”, said Dak.