April 20, 2014 (NAIROBI) – South Sudanese rebels have dismissed accusations that their fighters carried out targeted killings of Sudanese traders found in Bentiu during their recapture of the oil-rich state capital last Tuesday from government troops.
- A member of South Sudan’s rebel SPLM-In-Opposition patrols the streets of Upper Nile state capital Malakal, on 4 March 2014 (Photo: AFP /Andrei Pungovschi)
Sudanese media this week published stories alleging that the rebels allied to the former vice president, Riek Machar, massacred hundreds of Sudanese nationals, particularly from Darfur region.
Darfur rebel groups on Sunday have also presented an open letter to the United Nations Security Council in which they said up to 300 civilians from Darfur were killed on 15 April.
The open letter, which was cosigned by Abdel Wahid Al-Nur, Gibril Ibrahim and Minni Minnawi, however did not accuses a particular party in the conflict but expressed deep concern that Darfur civilians were being targeted in various towns in the troubled South Sudan.
Reports released by the Sudanese social media and activists however directly blamed the rebels claiming that over 200 Darfur civilians were shot dead inside the Mosque in Bentiu town.
However, the rebel commander in charge of Unity state’s military division 4, Maj. Gen. James Koang Chol, dismissed the accusation as "lies."
“By the time we came in Bentiu for this second time there were no Sudanese civilians or traders still in Bentiu who we were aware of as they all fled in the early weeks of January 2014 when violence erupted in Bentiu,” Gen Koang told Sudan Tribune on Sunday by phone from Bentiu.
He however admitted to killing of armed Sudanese nationals who were fighting alongside president Salva Kiir’s forces.
"What we know is that, yes, we killed in action armed members of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) who were fighting alongside the government’s troops. They were in military uniform and participated in active combat against our forces," he further explained.
The rebels commander could not however rule out having few Sudanese traders who remained behind in Bentiu in which some of them could have been killed in crossfire by either side in the conflict, dismissing allegation of a targeted killing by the rebels.
"We would not have killed innocent Darfur civilians. We don’t see them as our enemies. Our target are those JEM members who have decided to abandon their cause in Sudan and allowed themselves to be used as mercenaries to fight for Salva Kiir," Koang further added.
The rebels have been accusing JEM and its armed militias called Torabora for interfering in the internal conflict and fighting against the South Sudanese rebels.
JEM has always denied the accusation.
Equally, the rebels also accuse the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) of military interference, which Uganda has admitted.
The SPLM-In-Opposition demands their withdrawal as a precondition for a political settlement with Salva Kiir’s government.
On 8 April, during a meeting in the State House in Kampala, president Yoweri Museveni of Uganda reportedly told president Kiir to urge the IGAD regional leaders to deploy the proposed troops to South Sudan as soon as possible in order to leave no vacuum as Uganda army planed to withdraw from the region before the rainy season.