February 28, 2017 (JUBA) – Rebecca Garang, widow of South Sudan’s ruling party (SPLM) founder, John Garang has been criticized after she was quoted saying under-age children who fought Sudan’s long civil war followed adult “soldiers for better services like food.”
- Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior (ST File Photo)
In an interview with Al Jazeera UpFront program on Friday, Garang accused South Sudanese President Salva Kiir of allegedly using soldiers from the Dinka tribe to commit atrocities on other ethnic groupings and called on him to step down.
She also rejected a previous Human Rights Watch report, which implicated her husband John Garang for using child soldiers during the over two-decade civil war.
“This was a liberation struggle. We were at war. The country, South Sudan is very vast, is a big country. Dr. John [Garang] tried to command the army. Some small things can happen under his watch but when he hears about it, he has to do something about it,” said Nyandeng.
“It [Human Rights Watch report] was not correct because I am there. I’m a mother and I have my children,” she said.
When pressed about the children among the soldiers, Nyandeng admitted, but justified the presence of the child soldiers as a necessity.
“They children came with their parents and some of them just followed the army because sometimes when they go with the army they can find better services; food and things like that because we were in the bush. Some of the children even leave their parents and they followed the army. There was no official recruitment which was being done,” she said.
She said the children were not given guns and there were no schools for them to attend, an explanation that former child soldiers rejected.
Mading Akueth, a former child soldier in the Red Army, accused Nyandeng of being dishonest.
“Why should I walk all the way to [from Bor in South Sudan to] Ethiopia to get soldiers’ food? Where were soldiers getting a lot of food?,” he wrote on Facebook.
Mading said he was one of thousands of children recruited from Bor villages in 1987 by the SPLA/M leaders led by current Minister of Defense Kuol Manyang Juuk with full knowledge of John Garang. In that 1987 child soldiers recruitment, each village chief contributed three children – in what became known as ‘Buluk ke diar’ – a Dinka connotation of the for the exercise that translates as ‘head chief for three.’
Another former child soldier Naqib Invictus Chuti said they were abused during the liberation and were often called “thieves” by commanders and their families.
“Nyandeng’s comment is a deeply rooted sentiment toward jesh amer that dated back to 1980s; the days they look them on down,” Chuti wrote.
He added that the children were forced to hard labor to generate money that supported SPLM/A leaders’ families – including John Garang rented house in Kenya.
Forpeace Agany, another South Sudanese claimed his brother was among the recruited child soldiers.
“My brother left hundreds of cattle just to look for food? I doubt the mother of the nation,” said Agany Forpeace, in reference to Nyandeng.
Some South Sudanese citizens, however, think Nyandeng was quoted out of context.
“I believe she was talking on general services including shelter, shielded, protection, direction and food as well. I don’t know why people picking up the word food only, instead of services?,” one Panchol Jook wrote.