April 12, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) - The South Sudanese rebel SPLM-In-Opposition have dismissed speculations that some of their leaders were allegedly arrested by Ethiopian authorities in the country’s western region of Gambella.
- Gabriel Changson Chang (file/ST)
Social media was awash with reports that South Sudan’s ex-minister for wildlife conservation and tourism, Gabriel Changson Chang and Makuach Teny, the former youth and sports minister were arrested this week by the regional government in Gambella.
The reports further alleged that Chang was arrested on 12 April, while Teny on 10 April and that both were put in prison in Gambella town for allegedly trying to deliver fuel to the rebels.
Both men are members of the rebel group led by ex-vice president, Riek Machar.
However, Machar’s spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, dismissed the story as a "concocted lie."
"Gabriel Changson is one of the leading members of our delegation at the peace talks in Addis Ababa. He was warmly welcomed in Gambella town by the regional authorities. He is free. Meanwhile Makuach Teny is in one of our bases in Upper Nile state", Dak told Sudan Tribune on Saturday.
"Besides that, we don’t receive logistics from Ethiopia, but we get it from surrendering and defecting SPLA soldiers", he said, adding that the two leaders were also not the ones handling logistics for the fighters.
SPLA SOLDIER GUNNED DOWN IN GAMBELLA
Dak, however, suspected that the story was fabricated to divert the public attention from what happened in Gambella town on 9 April when a South Sudanese army (SPLA) soldier was gunned down.
“What occurred and related to South Sudanese in Gambella was the gunning down of one of Salva Kiir’s soldiers who carried out a terroristic activity by murdering an Ethiopian soldier in that foreign regional capital,” he further explained.
He said a SPLA soldier from one of the largest tribes in South Sudan as his facial scarification’s indicated sneaked into the town with weapons in his bag and attempted to force himself into a building.
"He pulled out his gun and shot dead an Ethiopian soldier who tried to check him. He was also killed instantly," Dak added.
The SPLA soldier, according to Dak, was also possessing eight grenades in the bag, but his intention was reportedly unknown.
"The Ethiopian authorities in the region were carrying out searches in the town for suspected colleagues of the dead SPLA soldier," he added.
Gambella region, also with its capital, Gambella, is one of the 14 Ethiopian regions and shares the borders with Upper Nile, Jonglei and Eastern Equatoria states.
The region is predominantly inhabited by the Ethiopian Nuer ethnic group, who constitutes the largest single ethnic group in the region, followed by Anyuak.
Its current governor, Gatluak Tut Khot, is from the Ethiopian Nuer.
The two ethnicities share cultures and languages with the South Sudanese Nuer and Anyuak in the neighbouring Upper Nile and Jonglei states.
Gambella, which is 700km west of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, was also known for sheltering South Sudanese refugees during the 21 years of war with Sudan in its refugee camps such as Itang, Pinyido and Dimma.
Bilpam, which was the general headquarters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) from 1983 to 1991, was also located in Gambella region.
Ethiopia was supportive of subsequent South Sudanese liberation movements including Anya-nya II, which established the historical Bilpam military base in 1975, as well as the SPLM/A, which took over the base in 1983.