May 6, 2014 (JUBA) – Some of the high-ranking South Sudanese military officers who deserted their positions in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state last week have returned, an official told Sudan Tribune.
- A group of soldiers from the South Sudan army gather around a truck while on patrol in the capital, Juba (Photo: Samir Bol/AFP/Getty Images)
Salva Chol Ayat, the state’s deputy governor said Brig. Peter Gatpel, a senior military officer who allegedly defected to opposition forces, had returned with some soldiers.
“We have received report that Brigadier Peter Gatpel who deserted his area of employment last week has returned. He has returned with some soldiers and officers,” Ayat told Sudan Tribune in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.
“They are now in Wunlang area in Aweil East County with some of the soldiers. Others have remained behind but we see no reason for them to have left,” he added.
However, it remains unclear as to how many officers and soldiers defected last week as neither the local command nor the office of the deputy chief of general staff for operation or the office of the spokesperson of the government made any statements.
“Peter Gatpel had been received by the local command and was accorded protection and taken to Aweil town, capital of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state where he is put in the hotel with his wives, but that he was suffering from diabetes,” the official said.
The senior army official, according to the deputy governor, looked weak having stayed for days minus food, a condition unhealthy for those suffering from diabetes.
“Seven of the defectors surrendered to the army at Wunlang after which they were allowed to hold talks with the state government and the general command and the office of the president,” Ayat said.
He further revealed that the soldiers who returned rejected going to the United Nations camp for protection, expressing their willingness to remain part of the army.
“We actually do not know why they left. We have not yet asked this question. What is important to see that they are protected and free? This was why they were asked to choose whether to go under UNMISS protection or to stay with the army,” Ayat told Sudan Tribune.
“Some of the soldiers and officers left because of fear,” he added.
Meanwhile, no investigations have reportedly been undertaken by authorities to establish why these army officials left their unit last week, raising fears of possible escalation of the ongoing conflict in the country.
“We explained to the local people that the Nuer living in the area was part of the government and that anyone who attempts to do anything will have invited trouble from the government. We told them that the Nuer in the area are not rebels. The Nuer fighting your brothers and sisters in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states are the rebels fighting to change the government,” explained the deputy governor.
A number of senior army officers reportedly switched allegiance to rebel forces led by former vice-president Riek Machar after violence broke out in Western Bahr el Ghazal’s town on Mapel before it spread to the capital, Wau, over a week ago.