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Top S. Sudanese army general goes missing amid rising tensions in Juba

December 6, 2014 (JUBA) – A high-ranking general in the South Sudanese army (SPLA) has remained unreachable for the past two days amid rising tensions and ongoing uncertainties in the capital, Juba.

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Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) jump off the back of a truck while on patrol in the capital, Juba, following the December 2013 outbreak of violence (Photo: Reuters)

The circumstances under which Lieutenant General Thomas Cirilo went missing remain unclear and neither the government nor the leadership of the army has been able to make a public statement on the matter.

Security sources say they have made several attempts to make contact without success.

“Nobody knows where he is. People have gone to his residence several times and talked with the family members to find out whether there were family issues, but the family insists that they have never had a discussion over any issue, apart from normal talking. The family members and colleagues have unsuccessfully been trying his numbers, but he remains unreachable, which is now the cause of concern to everybody,” a security source said.

Meanwhile, multiple sources from Eastern Equatoria’s border town of Nimule told Sudan Tribune on Saturday that mounting tensions in the region had forced about 60 to 70% of the population to cross the border to Uganda, while others had come to Juba.

The majority of those leaving are believed to be from the Dinka tribe, to which president Salva Kiir hails, with only about 10% of the population remaining in the area.

“[The] security situation in Nimule is not as before. Nimule is almost a ghost town. There has been panic everywhere without a single bullet fired. People there are in fear that a fight could break out [at] anytime,” a senior member of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) from the area told Sudan Tribune.

“People are calling us here in Juba to find out what is happening because youth are deserting. When we ask the government, we are told there is nothing; everything is normal. But in reality, things are not normal. When local people refuse to go to town, it means there is something and the government should investigate and find out what is happening,” he added.

The border between Uganda and Nimule has reportedly been closed, with the government deploying soldiers to the area to stop people leaving.

“They tried to stop people, especially the locals (Madi) from crossing into Uganda. In fact, the border between the two countries is [now] closed,” the government official said.

Military sources say the government had moved its troops into the area to launch an operation against Martin Kenyi and his group, who are said to have established a base around Nimule.

This has sparked fears among the local population of an outbreak of violence.

Sources say Kenyi intends to disrupt traffic between Juba and Kampala, with the aim of blocking vital revenues and essential supplies from reaching South Sudan.

Kenyi was commander of the Equatoria Defence Force, the military wing of a political group associated with Theophilus Ochan Loti, who broke away from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) at the height of the north-south civil war between 1983 and 2005.

Kenyi later became a member of the South Sudan Defence Force (SSDF), a group of armed forces operating in southern Sudan, aligned with the Sudanese government against the SPLM/A.

Last month, the SPLA claimed Kenyi was involved in a plot to form a rebellion parallel to that of the armed opposition led by the country’s former vice-president, Riek Machar.

The army claimed the group, comprising of disgruntled politicians and former militia, had appointed Kenyi as the overall commander, with its objective to fight for the separation of the Equatoria region from South Sudan.

The South Sudanese government has been locked in an armed struggle with pro-Machar rebel forces since a political feud within the SPLM turned violent last December.

The conflict initially erupted in the capital, Juba, before quickly spread to other areas, although Eastern Equatoria has remained largely unaffected.