Home | News    Saturday 25 April 2015

South Sudan seeks political solution to Upper Nile clashes

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April 24, 2015 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese government is due to send a high-level delegation to contain clashes in Upper Nile state capital Malakal this week.

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Rebel commander Johnson Olony speaks to the press upon arrival at Juba international airport on 13 June 2013 (ST)

Fighting erupted on Tuesday night and resumed Thursday in what pitted the governor’s guards against forces loyal to Johnson Olony, a government-backed militia leader.

Olony was a militia commander whose forces fought government troops between 2010 and April 2012 before he responded to a presidential amnesty.

He was later integrated into the South Sudanese (SPLA) force in 2013 and fought against the armed opposition under the leadership of former vice-president Riek Machar as part of the regular troops, but maintains control over his forces and operates as independent commander from the local command structure in the area.

Although it is not clear as to what sparked off the violent clashes, state officials said forces loyal to Olony had denied one of the guards access to treatment at a local health facility, a move which led to confrontations between the two armed groups.

Sources claimed Olony’s forces asked governor’s guards, including the patient to return to their headquarters, mocking them with provocative and derogatory words.

“This hospital is not for you, go back,” an eyewitness quoted one of Olony’s forces as saying.

“The governor’s body guards turned their vehicle in an attempt to go back as directed by rival forces but a fire was allegedly opened on them right away, killing three out of the five on spot, including the sick,” the eyewitness also told Sudan Tribune.

Sources say both forces engaged in sporadic gun battle throughout Tuesday night.

AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

“At around 6am (local time), the two sides resumed the fighting around Market, Jalaba and Rei Almasr all the way to Stadium and Thowra Jalaba with some few fighting in Malakia areas within Malakal city. The fighting went on from 6am until 11am when governor’s guards were pushed out of the town to southern parts of the town in Bam, Denger Shufu and military Barrack. The reinforcement force of Olony had started across the river with shelling on the town in Southern part of Malakal from Lelo. It also used the armored ship stationed in the river for shelling,” said another eye witness.

“The governor’s guards were pushed out of Malakal town to Sherkats and Wechnori, about 3km away from Malakal, leaving Olony’s forces controlling most parts of town,” he added.

To calm the situation the military leadership at the general headquarters reportedly asked the governor’s guards and allied forces to withdraw from the town.

Meanwhile, the ruling party (SPLM) political leadership convened a meeting and agreed to send a high level delegation led by defense minister, Kuol Manyang to Malakal.

Acting SPLM secretary-general Anne Itto said the delegation’s mission will involve talking to political leaders and elders on both sides to ensure they come together so that misunderstandings within that section of the military are resolved.

“That is what is agreed in the Political Bureau, we are also looking forward to the government organising maybe a visit of elders from the major communities in Upper Nile so that once the military issues are tackled ... even community leaders from here will go and talk to their people so that the situation will be under control and people will look at this as a problem developing between soldiers and it has nothing to do with the ordinary community members of Shilluk, Dinka and Nuer,” Itto told reporters on Thursday.

(ST)

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