July 19, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudanese rebels have denied abducting civilians from Northern Bahr el Ghazal state during their recent clashes week with the national army while crossing through government-controlled areas.
- South Sudanese rebels pictured in Jonglei state on 31 January 2014 (Photo: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic)
“We tactfully managed to cross out with the help of the local people who knows the area. They were very good people. They were friendly, very friendly and were not scared. They wanted to remain with us so that they become part of the movement, but we told them, if this is not your will, if you do not feel the need to join the movement, then you can return to your homes and we set allowed them”, Brig. Gen. Ochan Puot told Sudan Tribune on Saturday.
Gen. Puot was one of the senior officers who defected in April from the Western Bahr el Ghazal state capital, moving Bazia area, located south of Wau, where he remained with his forces until early July when decided to move towards neighbouring state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, passing through bushes into the area.
The rebels, he said, always cooperates with the local population who serve as their tour guides.
“We have never forcefully taken local people to show us the passage route. What we have always found when we come into contact with local people, either through reconnaissance of our forces or by way of sending a message to a local chief when we have come to a place inhabited by the local people, is their willingness to show us the way”, said Puot, clarifying that he had not yet crossed into Sudanese territory and was still within South Sudanese territory.
“We are inside South Sudan. Why go to Sudan”, asked Gen. Puot who also confirmed meeting the defecting soldiers, chief Deng Geng and Abdullah Kuot, the state lawmaker who resigned his position to join rebellion.
“We have been together for the past two days now. All is okay with us now. Others are still coming. We are getting information that Hon. Malong Anyuon and many others from the area are within walking distance to our place”, he said.
“We expect them to be together with us today. It may not take even one hour. I am told they are in a place that if you call with a loud voice, your voice can be heard. People here like Honourable Kuot who knows the place say it is actually not far”, the rebel commander told Sudan Tribune.
Meanwhile, Aweil north and West county commissioners said the security situation in their areas returned to normal, denying that rebels are within their territories, but have allegedly crossed into Sudanese territory.
“As far as I know, there are no rebels within an area which falls under a territorial jurisdiction of Aweil North County. We have heard the rebels were coming from Western Bahr el Ghazal State, passing through the bushes under territorial jurisdiction of Aweil centre and Aweil west counties until they reached where they clashed with our forces, Aweil north county commissioner, Kuol Athuai Hal, told Sudan Tribune in a separate interview on Saturday.
Commissioner Hal said he and the people from the area only heard and read in the media about defection of some people, but which was untrue.
“We don’t have rebels. People here were hearing and reading in the media that some people have defected. This is not true. It is misleading information and it is just propaganda by the rebels to cause confusion so that they are joined. The rebellion of Riek Machar cannot be joined by the sons and daughters of this area because this is the same Riek Machar who has killed their brothers and sisters in his tribal war in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states”, said Hal.
He claimed government troops in the area destroyed the rebels and some of them who fled into disarray were being pursued for clearance.
“We were hearing that they (army defectors) were coming from Western Bahr el Ghazal through the bushes of Aweil centre and Aweil west counties but when they reached our place, actually a place far away from here, they met our soldiers and they were destroyed and scattered. Some of them run into disarray. They were confused. Some were caught by the civilians after they were lost because they do not know the area”, said the commissioner.
“They don’t know where they were going. So they unknowingly started returning back to where they were caught by the local people and they were of course destroyed”, he added.
Several officials and legislators in the state, however, disputed the version of commissioner and expressed regrets for making statements they claimed could not be verified.