July 14, 2014 (JUBA) – Authorities in South Sudan’s border state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal claim that they do not know the whereabouts of a prominent traditional leader in Aweil North county suspected of defecting to the rebel faction.
Chief Chief Deng Geng was removed from his position earlier this year for reasons that remain unclear.
Neither the county commissioner nor state minister of local government have made a public statement on the matter.
Several state government officials, including some MPs, claimed Geng had deserted the area and was currently at an undisclosed location.
This has led to speculation that Geng, who disappeared about a week ago, has defected from the government to join the rebel movement led by former vice-president Riek Machar.
The rumours have sparked confusion and unease among the local community in the area.
Pro-Machar rebels have been engaged in an armed struggle with the Salva Kiir-led government since mid-December last year after a political split emerged in the ruling SPLM, sparking violence across the country.
Geng fought during the civil war with Sudan prior to independence as a soldier with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) before being appointed as a section chief in Aweil North county.
“It is going to one week now and nobody knows where he had gone. I am told he had gone with a sizeable number of the youth in the area,” one legislator told Sudan Tribune on Monday.
“I know Geng myself. He is someone who has a large following in the area and if the allegations that he may have defected to the rebel side becomes the truth, then it is certainly going to cause [a] security concern and the area will never be peaceful. I just hope nothing like that happened,” he said on condition of anonymity.
The legislator also expressed fears that the forest straddling the uncontrolled border area with Sudan from which the new nation seceded in 2011 could be used as a base for launching military attacks on neighbouring areas.
“It is going to be a very, very big threat not just for our people in the state but also neighbouring states like Warrap,” the lawmaker said.
“They (rebels) might want to extend their operation beyond, unless their intention is to localise their grievances since he was just a chief,” he said.
As the home region of president Kiir, Bahr el Ghazal is widely regarded as a government stronghold.