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South Sudanese army vows to protect rape trial witnesses

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The rank of Lt general is pinned on Lt Gen. James Ajong by President Salva Kir, and Vice President James Wani, during the swearing-in ceremony as SPLA general chief of staff on Wednesday 10 May 2017 (ST Photo)

September 2, 2017 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army has vowed to protect witnesses willing to testify before the military court against soldiers accused of raping foreigners at a hotel in the capital, Juba.

“We have no problem with anyone coming out to testify before the court. The issue of the safety of the witnesses was discussed at the command council and it was agreed that the witnesses would be accorded all protection they want. If they do not want to come to the country, they can testify through video link,” the army chief of staff, Gen. James Ajonga told Sudan Tribune Saturday.

He added, “So let no one feel they will be targeted. The command has granted protection”.

The army chief said recent decisions of the command council to restructure the army are parts of the general efforts to overhaul and reshape the institution so that it moves towards a professional army in which the ground, riverine and air force are equally represented.

“Just give us time and our people will appreciate the result of their patience. They stood with their sons during the war of liberations when they were the source of their strength. We want them to not be disappointed by the actions of individuals on which we are working to improve so that there is a discipline in the army”, he said.

The top military officer revealed that the command council, in which he currently sits, recently unveiled strategic plans to reorganizing the military headquarters, re-zoning the military commands, setting up new strategic zones and joint operation command systems.

Other areas, according to Ajonga, include strengthening the country’s central military leadership command structure, imposing strict discipline on the army, pushing for more innovation, reforming personnel management system and pushing for integration between the building of national defence and economic development.

The army chief of staff general urged the civil population to work together so that the military institution can be professionalised.

“Instead of continuing to blame the soldiers, we need to work together because the people we are blaming [are] our brothers, our sons, husbands and above all our fellow citizens. And more importantly, what I always emphasize is that these soldiers are there for you, for me and the whole country,” further stressed Ajonga.

“We don’t work together with them to correct and make an adjustment, then we have failed in our roles as the citizens and we shall always allow ourselves to be consumed by accusations and justifications”, he added.

The senior army official was reacting to queries on what military leadership was doing to protect the image of the army by identifying elements accused of gang raping foreign nationals and vandalizing Terrain hotel when fighting erupted in July 2016 between government forces and fighters loyal to the rebel leader, Riek Machar.

The trail of the accused soldiers, observers say, would be a key test of accountability in a country where impunity is pervasive. Those accused of atrocities never appeared in public before the court.

In the July incident, 12 South Sudan soldiers were accused of gang-raping five foreigners, killing a local journalist while forcing survivors to watch and looting the Terrain hotel compound in the capital, Juba.

The trial of the accused South Sudanese soldiers almost collapsed when judges at the military court threatened to dismiss the charges of rape and murder unless the foreign victims and witnesses testified. The same judges initially rejected the possibility of remote testimony via online video interviews, but have now accepted after directives from the command council permitted testifying through a video link.

(ST)

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  • 3 September 02:16, by Don-Don Malith Rual

    How is civilian control over military achievable in this circumstance¿There have to clear division btwn poltical military roles n responsibility, The simple step should be to keep military out of politics by forming military subordinate to civilian leaders who are to be accountable to assembly or public n policy making! Increase in military budget leading to rival services to achieve their needs

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  • 3 September 03:41, by john akeen

    The government of our country South Sudan must obey the law, the Army of our country must protect the law and the territory of our land, and justices must sanction any criminal who violated the laws, and police must enforce the law in a every corner of the country and should not be friend with anyone who barck the law, and peoples must be afraid of the law because no one is above the law

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  • 3 September 08:39, by Lenin Bull

    Thanks and appreciations to Chief of Defense Forces Gen.James Ajongo Mawut your good speech and clarity of purpose/vision. You are the right track and we encourage you continue like that and even should do more to professionalize and nationalize our army through correct means. This business of uncouth militia incorporation should stop immediately.

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  • 3 September 08:44, by Lenin Bull

    It is these primitive untrained tribal militias that Riek Machar ( 2001), Pauline Matip( 2006), Peter Gadet, Gabriel Tanginya, Johnson Olony, David Yau Yau, Clement Wani, etc have been pouring into the SPLA which have corrupted the good image and morale of the army. It should stop immediately or else people will talk of reform army till Jesus come back.

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  • 3 September 08:50, by Lenin Bull

    As for those foreigners tarnishing the image of the SPLA through report of rapes, the army and leadership of South Sudan should watch out. All the sex workers/prostitutes who swarmed the country prior to the break out of the war 2013, want free money and compensation from South Sudan government through rape tricks/blackmail. You are opening a Pandora’s box.

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    • 3 September 10:35, by Eastern

      Do you really know what a Pandora Box is? Sex workers, mostly Congolese women, came to southern Sudan then following the SPLA soldiers to Nimule, Yei, Mapel, Bor and other location. At one point, SPLA soldiers threatened Kuol Manyang when he was governor of Jonglei state after he hinted on sending away the "comfort women" from Bor...South Sudan is too broke to compensate even the Ugandan traders..

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      • 3 September 11:17, by South South

        Eastern,

        You are out of touch of realities of South Sudan. This article is talking about people who committed rapes and eye witnesses are encouraged by SPLA to come forward as SPLA will provide protection for them if they are afraid of their life. You are talking about Congolese women who came to South Sudan and have consent sex. You are talking about money, what is wrong with you Eastern?

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