January 3, 2017 (JUBA) - South Sudan rebel leader, currently in South Africa, ordered for the release of the Tanzanian pilot who landed in a rebel-controlled area within Unity state last week, an official said.
- South Sudan’s opposition leader Riek Machar speaks during a briefing in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa April 9, 2016 (Photo Reuters/ Tiksa Negeri)
The armed opposition’s chairman of the national committee for information, Mabior Garang said Riek Machar, directed the pilot’s release after he was contacted and the latter flown back to Juba.
The plane, a Cessna 208B-Caravan-Registration: 5H.MZA was operated by Mohammed Nassur Saleh. On board was the government-appointed commissioner of Panyinjiar county, Peter Gatkoi.
Carrying a 12-member crew, the plane landed at Ganyliel airstrip, an area controlled by the Machar-led armed opposition fighters sparking concerns and investigations behind the circumstances under which the plane could have landed in a rebel held territory.
Local officials in the area, Mabior said, contacted the higher leadership after the plane landed and spotted the presence of the county commissioner and his entourage after they disembarked.
“The movement’s civil administration, the local authorities in Panyijiar county immediately alerted the top leadership of the movement. The Chairman and Commander in Chief of the SPLM/SPLA Dr. Riek Machar Teny then ordered for the release of the said pilot”, he said in a statement also extended to Sudan Tribune.
The Tanzanian pilot, according to Mabior, was allowed to fly away on humanitarian grounds and he has since returned to Juba.
“The movement has since decided to release both the pilot and the plane on humanitarian grounds and the Pilot have since safely left our liberated territories back to Juba. The innocent pilot, who carried no legal documents and had no access to any embassy in the country, blames Juba government for lying to him that Panyinjiar was under government control”, he stressed.
The armed opposition official, however, expressed regrets and surprise at how saying their opponents in Juba would send an innocent pilot into a rebel controlled area as a bait for propaganda.
“The SPLM/SPLA (IO) regrets that the regime in Juba would send an innocent pilot into our liberated territories without information and then fabricate a story alleging the pilot is being held by the “IO” in exchange for their spokesperson James Gadet; who was kidnapped with the help of Kenya authorities last year,” said Mabior.
He further added, “These allegations are pure propaganda”.
The rebels denied reports that they detained the pilot and demanded ransom.
“In reference to the above subject, the leadership of the SPLM/SPLA In Opposition would like to refute the negative propaganda fabricated by the Salva Kiir administration regarding a Tanzanian pilot, allegedly held for ransom by the SPLM/SPLA (IO) security personnel,” clarified Mabior.
He described the rebel faction as a mass popular movement with civil administration in its liberated territories and that the entire movement commends the leadership shown by the commissioner of Panyijiar Brig. General John Tap Puot and his entire staff, officers and all those who reacted quickly to resolve the situation.
In the past, he said, the rebel had previously released foreign planes which landed without their permissions in Pagak, Uror and Jiech as good gestures to encourage humanitarian services in their territories.