August 20, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army (SPLA) has denied the defection of a senior officer in Tore payam (district), about 25km west of Central Equatoria state’s Yei town amid reports that soldiers in the area opened fire on each other.
- Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) jump from a vehicle while on patrol in the capital, Juba (Photo: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic)
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, SPLA spokesperson Lieutenant Col. Joseph Marier Samuel dismissed rebel claims of the defection as “propaganda”.
“There has never been such [a] development in Tore. The area is peaceful and the people there are going about their normal business. No shoot-out has ever occurred among the soldiers or between soldiers and the community,” he said.
Yei county commissioner Juma David Augustine also denied any knowledge of the reported shooting, describing the security situation in Tore as peaceful and normal.
“I am surprised by the reports that there was a shoot-out among soldiers in Tore, which is one of the payams under Yei county in which I am a commissioner. This is information is not right. I am not aware and I would like to inform you that the area is peaceful and calm,” Augustine told Sudan Tribune in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.
GUN BATTLE FOR TORE
The comments come after reports on Tuesday that fighting had broken out among government soldiers deployed at a military outpost in Tore, splitting them into two separate rival camps.
It was alleged that forces led by Colonel William Francis succeeded in capturing the town after flushing out government loyalists in a two-hour gun battle.
The officer purportedly seized army equipment and hardware, with most of the fighting force under his command subsequently defecting to the country’s rebel faction under the leadership of former vice-president Riek Machar.
The exact circumstances that led to the alleged internal rebellion remain unclear.
However, rebel military spokesperson Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang confirmed the development in a statement, saying the fall of Tore was a strategic victory for opposition forces and would likely encourage further rebellion in the region
“The fall of Tore would encourage fomenting of more successful internal rebellions by disenfranchised government troops, leaves Yei within [the] operational scope of [the] Greater Equatoria front and cuts off Western Equatoria state from its only southern supply route,” he said in a statement seen by Sudan Tribune.
However, the Yei county commissioner has denied the existence of an army colonel in the area.
“There is no officer I know [of] in Tore with such rank and name. I know the commanding officer of the SPLA forces in Tore is Captain Dario. He is the senior most officer there,” said Augustine.
REBELS ANGERED BY BOYCOTT
In another development, the rebel leadership accused the government delegation of boycotting peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, where discussions were due to be held on transitional security arrangements, economic, finance and resources management, as we as well issues relating to transitional governance
“[The] government’s boycott of peace talks has led to [an] escalation of the war on the ground as manifested by small arms fire which erupted in Juba on the night of 18 [August] by soldiers deserting for Greater Bahr El Ghazal region and clashes among government soldiers deployed at Tore military barracks west,” said Koang, adding that the government’s no-show at talks highlights its lack of political will to resolve the ongoing crisis.
Government forces and pro-Machar rebels have been engaged in armed conflict since a political dispute in South Sudan’s ruling party (SPLM) turned violent in mid-December last year.
The fighting had led to the deaths of thousands of people and uprooted more than a million from their homes, with aid agencies warning the country is facing a worsening humanitarian emergency.
However, a January ceasefire deal has failed to halt ongoing violence on the ground, while efforts to reach a lasting political settlement between the warring parties has continued to stall.