June 8, 2014 (NAIROBI) - A military spokesperson of the South Sudanese rebels led by the former vice president, Riek Machar, has released a statement suggesting a new development in which the South Sudanese troops and their Ugandan allied forces were allegedly fleeing from areas they previously occupied in Jonglei state for fear of rebel attacks.
- South Sudanese rebel troops loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar stand on guard in Unity state capital Bentiu on 12 January 2014 after recapturing the strategic town from government troops (Photo: Reuters)
Brig Lul Ruai Koang in the Sunday press release said troops belonging to the South Sudan army (SPLA) and Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) have abandoned their positions in Gadiang, Poktap and Wernyol bases and headed towards Bor, the state capital.
“Kiir’s troops and UPDF’s forces that had been occupying Gadiang forward base in Duk County, Jonglei had abandoned it along with Poktap, and Wernyol barracks. Other smaller military outposts were also abandoned,” he revealed.
He further said the government forces in Ayod, north of Bor have also abandoned the area, moving to the state capital, after hearing about the abandonment by their colleagues in other strategic locations.
Koang said the rebel forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A in Opposition) had filled in by occupying the abandoned areas “to avoid security vacuum and possible lawlessness.”
The military spokesperson further alleged that a three-hour gun battle also ensued between government troops that wanted to abandon areas and forces loyal to president Kiir who wanted to remain in their positions. The fighting forced troops recruited from Greater Bahr el Ghazal region, home to president Kiir, to cross west of the Nile into Lakes state.
However, Koang warned that the state capital, Bor, was the next target as the rebels may march towards Juba, the national capital, in case of failure of the peace talks in Addis Ababa.
“With no UPDF forces in forward bases, Bor is left vulnerable to winds of change, Juba and eventually the whole country,” he said.
Residents inside Bor town have confirmed to Sudan Tribune the new development, saying the incoming soldiers who abandoned positions were roaming in the town while others were moving southwards towards Juba.
“They [soldiers] looked disorderly and exhausted. Some went on rampage, looting the market in town and shot dead two business people who tried to resist the looting of their properties,” one resident told Sudan Tribune on phone on Monday.
It is not yet clear what prompted the government troops to abandon such strategic positions.
CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES AGREEMENT
However, James Gatdet Dak, spokesperson of the rebel leader, Riek Machar, explained that their fighters had not attacked the government positions, saying they have continued to respect the political agreement on cessation of hostilities signed on 9 May between his boss and president Salva Kiir.
He blamed the disorderly abandonment of the areas by the government forces on the fear of unknown.
“This could be a result of panic for the fear of unknown as the four-month rainy season has begun and will make the poor roads or swamps impassable. Apparently this will deny such government barracks further reinforcements or logistical supplies, including delivery of monthly salaries as many airstrips will not be usable,” Dak hinted.
South Sudanese rebels have in the past hinted that they would advance during the wet season as this may render ineffective tanks and other military vehicles used by the government and its allies against their forces which are mainly infantry units.
SPLA DISMISS REBEL CLAIMS
The spokesperson of the SPLA, Col. Phillip Aguer, however, dismissed the rebels’ claims, saying the security situation was generally under control in most part of the country.
"The general security situation as at the moment is under control in most parts of the country, except in Unity and Upper Nile states where the rebels of Riek Machar, have been launching attacks on the positions of the SPLA forces in Renk, Gelacheng and Wangkai, but the SPLA forces managed to repulse them and remained in their positions", Aguer told Sudan Tribune Monday.
The SPLA, he said, did not follow the rebel forces since as a national army, they have to orders and instructions from the government and the general command.
"The SPLA command was directed by the commander in chief to ensure they do not lift a foot from their current positions to positions held by Riek Machar rebels", he said.
"These orders have been complied with as a commitment of the government to respecting the ceasefire agreement which the president and the rebel leader, Riek Machar signed on 9th May in Addis Ababa", Aguer added.