August 11, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – The official spokesperson for Riek Machar, former South Sudanese First Vice President and leader of the armed opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO), said the claim uttered by President Salva Kiir that the fighting which occurred at his presidential palace on 8 July was a coup attempt staged by Machar, was not true.
- James Gatdet Dak, Riek Machar’s spokesperson ’Reuters photo)
President Kiir in a series of recent interviews told the media that the incident in Juba at the palace, known as J1, was an attempted coup by Machar to assassinate him. He also said Machar was carrying a pistol inside their presidency meeting room and his bodyguards started the shooting outside the palace which sparked the ongoing fighting.
In an exclusive interview with Sudan Tribune on Wednesday, James Gatdet Dak, official spokesperson for the opposition leader, dismissed the allegations as untrue, saying like on 15 December 2013, the 8 July 2016 incident was not a coup attempt by Machar, but rather another failed attempt by President Kiir to kill Machar.
“It seems President Kiir and his officials do not give up on claiming imaginary coups, although these claims have been rubbished by the whole world. They claimed this on 15 December 2013 that there was an attempted military coup, but could not find evidence. They did not arrest even a single military officer accused of the alleged coup plot. What they did that fateful night was to knock at the doors of politicians they did not like and arrested them and charged them for the so-called coup when in fact it was President Kiir’s Tiger’s bodyguards who started the shooting at the barrack and subsequently murdered thousands of unarmed ethnic Nuer civilians in Juba,” Machar’s official spokesperson told Sudan Tribune on Thursday in response to the coup accusation.
“So the coup claim in 2013 was rubbished by the whole world and also by the regime’s court in Juba because it was false,” he said.
He also said the recent claim of a coup attempt on 8 July 2016, was as false of that of 15 December 2013, adding rather it was a plan to kill Machar inside the palace.
Dak said President Kiir instead lured Machar to his own palace to kill him, saying it did not make any sense that someone responding to an invitation was accused of attempting a coup.
The opposition leader’s spokesperson further narrated that Kiir was angered by the death of his five soldiers who were killed on Gudele road in Juba while attempting to illegally disarm Machar’s bodyguards.
“The facts are already out there. Even the media organizations they talk to already know what the truth is by simply applying their common sense. This recent claim of a coup attempt has also been rubbished by the region and the international community at large, simply because it is false. You cannot go to a palace with 70 soldiers to stage a coup and lock yourself in a room with the person you are making a coup against while the palace is surrounded by hundreds of soldiers and tanks belonging to the person you allegedly want to oust. It doesn’t make sense at all. Common sense will tell you the claim is nonsensical,” Dak added.
Dak also said the claim that Machar went to palace with 400 soldiers in 21 military trucks was not true, saying the number of soldiers was only 70. He also said Machar’s forces have only about 4 military trucks in their base and there was nowhere to get up to 21 military trucks as the government did not provide additional military vehicles for the office of the First Vice President.
HOW DID FIGHTING HAPPEN?
Dak reiterated his earlier claim to regional and international media that it was President Kiir’s forces that started the shooting at the palace in order to kill his boss, Machar.
“President Kiir’s bodyguards and forces hidden around the palace started the shooting that day, 8 July. The shooting started when one of their ambulances came and when it reached at the gate of the palace it turned on its siren and suddenly Kiir’s bodyguards started the shooting at the bodyguards of the First Vice President, Dr. Machar, who were deployed outside the palace. So their ambulance gave them the signal to start shooting, which indicated it was a planned attack,” he said.
He said when the president’s bodyguards were defeated with almost all of them killed or scattered outside the palace’s fence, a huge force in several hundreds backed by tanks emerged from within the vicinity of the palace and continued fighting Machar’s bodyguards.
Dak claimed that he “suspected’ the plan was to scar Machar away from the palace and then get killed outside the palace if he attempted to run back to his base at Jebel Kujur, which is five kilometers away from the palace. He said President Kiir would have then claimed and told the world that Machar was killed in crossfire and did not know who did it.
“Imagine the President made a public statement to the media on the day of the fighting that he did not know what had happened outside the fence of his palace. And now after days of fighting he again contradictorily claimed that it was a coup attempt by Dr. Riek Machar. From whom did he get this contradicting information? If it was a coup attempt why did he not arrest Dr. Riek Machar who was standing with him inside the palace when he was making the first statement instead of letting him go free as he has now claimed? There are a lot of questions to be asked in this claim.”
DID KIIR SAVE MACHAR?
Dak said it was true that the two leaders saved each other by sticking together otherwise the two of them would have been killed if they separated themselves during the fighting.
He dismissed President Kiir’s exclusive claim that he saved Machar, saying media outlets who interviewed him did not ask him where Machar’s close bodyguards were at the time.
“What happened was that the close bodyguards of the two leaders were inside the palace with them. However, they made a wise decision because they did not echo the fighting which was taking place between the outer ring bodyguards outside the fence of the palace. If the close bodyguards had fought inside the palace, the two leaders would have been killed. Any move by either leader’s bodyguard to shoot at the other leader would have been disastrous for the two leaders,” he said.
He said Kiir understood that by being closer to Machar, his deputy’s bodyguards would not shoot him and vice versa.
“They got stuck with each other inside the palace. And that saved their lives. It deterred their rival bodyguards from targeting either of them for fear of shooting the two of them,” he said.
He said the situation continued until 11pm at night when a third party was involved in the arrangements to take the leaders to their respective residents with combination of forces.
Dak also dismissed the claims that Machar was carrying a pistol in his hand to assassinate Kiir inside the palace, asking “then what prevented Dr. Machar from shooting Kiir in that room if that was the plan?”
The opposition leader’s spokesperson said Machar never carried a pistol, but it was instead President Kiir’s habit to carry a pistol with him to cabinet meetings, and “sometimes wearing military attires” even before the 2013 crisis.
IS PRESIDENT KIIR IN CONTROL?
Dak said there are two suggestions to explain the ongoing violence; either President Kiir has lost control of his army or he is part of the plan to eliminate Machar and destroy the August 2015 peace agreement.
“I would say he is either not in control of his government and army or he is responsible for the ongoing mess and the plan to eliminate his first deputy. If he did not know among his army generals who instigated the fighting at J1 palace; if he did not know who ordered his forces, with tanks and helicopter gunships to attack Dr. Machar’s military base and residence at Jebel; and if he does not know who has been ordering his forces now to go on offensive to hunt for Dr. Riek Machar in the bushes around Juba, then he is not in control. But if he knows and does not act against the perpetrator or bless these violent actions, then it means he is directly involved,” Dak added.
He however challenged that there is no national army which President Kiir commands, but rather a “bunch of various militia groups” randomly recruited based on regions and states loyal to certain politicians and army generals.
GAI POSITION ILLEGAL
He also said the recent nomination of Taban Deng Gai and his appointment to replace Machar was illegal and a clear violation of Article 6.5 of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS).
Dak also said President Kiir and the Jieng [Dinka] Council of Elders (JCE) cooked the conspiracy with Gai to replace Machar so as to do away with the implementation of the peace agreement to avoid various sectors reforms in the country.
He also said the opposition faction led by Machar was for a long time “suspicious” about Gai’s deals with President Kiir and JCE, but played it down with the hope that Gai was going to abandon the conspiracy.
“It was not surprising to many of us when Honourable Taban Deng Gai decided to defect to Salva Kiir. This move was suspected since December last year when he led the advance team to Juba. It was reported in the media that the Jieng Council of Elders wanted President Kiir to appoint him as First Vice President instead of Dr. Riek Machar. To them Taban Deng can be easily manipulated and be used to destroy the agreement if ensured a top executive position. They used the same excuse of temporary absence after fighting in Juba in the same way they did it when Dr. Machar was in his headquarters of Pagak and that he was not returning to Juba soon,” he said.
Gai, he added, was not his first time to leave Machar and strike his own deal after he was entrusted to negotiate on behalf of Machar’s faction.
“This is not his first time to run ahead alone by instead negotiating his own private deal whenever he was entrusted by Dr. Riek Machar to negotiate on behalf of the rest of us. I can recall that in the year 2001, which is 15 years ago, Honourable Taban Deng Gai was assigned by Dr. Riek Machar in Nairobi to lead our delegation for negotiation on reunification with our late leader, Dr. John Garang. But instead of completing the negotiation on behalf of the rest of us in the then South Sudan Democratic Front (SSDF), he ended up defecting to late Dr. John Garang’s Torit Faction in Nairobi. I witnessed this myself because I was the Information Officer in the office of the Chairman, Dr. Riek Machar, in Nairobi in that year. This is what Honourable Taban has repeated now by abandoning being our chief negotiator and defected to President Kiir before the peace agreement could be implemented,” Dak added.
He however said those who have left Machar this time will be the ones to regret their decision soon, adding that unravelling the peace deal will likely backfire on those orchestrating it.
He said the best course of action was for President Kiir to undo his illegal actions by stopping the ongoing offensive by his forces around Juba in order for Machar to return to the capital after the proposed deployment of a third party force, warning that the opposition forces may, as an option, take control of Juba to restore law and order.
He earlier criticized President Kiir for “hurriedly” approving an “illegal nomination” of Gai by a handful of officials who were only five in number and could not compose a quorum in either the political bureau or the national liberation council of the opposition faction, arguing it indicated his involvement in the plan to divide the SPLM-IO and destroy the peace deal.