May 1, 2014 (KAMPALA/JUBA) – South Sudan army (SPLA) on Tuesday witnessed yet another defection of a senior Nuer officer from Aweil East of Northern Bhar el Ghazal state who has allegedly joined opposition forces led by the former vice president, Riek Machar.
- Generals from South Sudan’s army celebrate during official independence day celebrations on 9 July 2011 (Photo: Getty Images)
Machar’s spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, told Sudan Tribune that Brigadier General Peter Gatbel Wich, defected from Northern Bahr el Ghazal along with 400 fighters in protest over the alleged massacre of unarmed Nuer military trainees at Mapel last week by “soldiers loyal to president Salva Kiir.”
“Yes, we have received reports that the officer was angered by the recent targeted killing of unarmed trainee soldiers of the Nuer ethnic group by the army in Mapel training center,” Dak said by phone on Friday.
He accused South Sudan government of allegedly trying to mobilise every tribe and bring in foreign armies or armed groups to help fight the war and sustain the regime.
“In addition to his tribally oriented army, Salva Kiir has also brought in foreign Ugandan army, groups of Sudanese rebels and mobilized his ethnic group as well as other South Sudanese tribes including the Nuer loyal to him to exterminate the Nuer whether loyal to him or opposed to him. This is unacceptable,” Dak further said and warned that the Juba regime would face growing resistance in the coming phase.
He wondered why the current system under president Kiir targets those that are still loyal to him simply because of their ethnicity.
Authorities in Northern Bahr el Ghazal have confirmed the defection of the general, but put the number of the forces he left with him at only 40.
The deputy governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Chol Ayat, confirmed to Radio Tamazuj, that the senior officer defected at Wunyiik military base of army Division 3 with 40 soldiers and was heading towards Meiram, near the border with Sudan.
Ayat, however, downplayed the threat of the defection, saying many Nuer generals and soldiers deployed in the state had allegedly remained loyal to president Kiir.
The defection was the second incident in Greater Bahr el Ghazal region after six generals defected from Wau last week, also in protest of the Mapel massacre.
The conflict which seems to further develop into tribal war pitting president Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group against Machar’s Nuer tribe, started in mid-December last year when the former allegedly tried to disarm Nuer soldiers in the presidential guards.
Kiir later accused Machar and others of plotting a coup to depose him, a claim dismissed the latter who counter-accused the former of orchestrating the violence in order to get rid of his political opponents and fail reforms in the ruling SPLM party.
Many Nuer generals also defected in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states in protest of the killings of Nuer civilians in the capital, Juba, following the clashes.
A shaky peace process has been taking place in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to try and resolve the conflict between the warring parties.
DEFECTED OFFICERS RETURN
Meanwhile, most senior army officers that deserted Wau, the capital of South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal state have returned, a local official said.
Derek Alfred, the state information minister told Sudan Tribune on Thursday that 100 senior army officers returned “after the state promised their safety.”
“The government is open to dialogue and we want tranquility in Wau,” he said by phone and that government will allow these officers choose where they prefer to live.
“They want to stay at UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] compound and they will decide when to come out (to their homes in Wau). We allow this as a precaution [for their safety],” Derek added.
Three brigadier generals left Wau last week following reports of an attack by angry widows on a military training camp in Mapel that left about five Nuer trainees dead.
The fighting in Mapel area, South Sudan army spokesperson said, ensued after widows allegedly targeted military trainees from the Nuer tribe and “mobbed them.”
Col. Phillip Aguer described the incident as "unfortunate", with rebels forces claiming "nearly 200" people were killed in Mapel last week.
Sudan Tribune could not independently verify claims arising from both sides.
ARMY OFFICERS TARGETED
"The defecting officers alleged being targeted in Wau town. But on Tuesday, the soldiers and their commanders started returning to Wau town," said the minister.
“More than 100 soldiers and senior officers have now returned. We are encouraging the rest, those who are still in the bush, to come home and they are free to choose where to stay,” he stressed.
Derek further assured that the state government would provide protection within Wau and freedom of movement even for army officers who want to leave the state.