Juba – International ceasefire monitors say that SPLA-IO rebels ‘blatantly’ violated the ceasefire in South Sudan when they attacked and captured parts of Nasser town in late July and held them throughout August.
According to an investigation report released today by the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM), the attack took place within weeks of the fighting earlier in Juba, during which the SPLA-IO chairman and then-Vice President Riek Machar was nearly killed.
Rebel troops opened fire on the SPLA garrison town of Nasser in the morning of 31 July, using machine guns and artillery from their positions south of the Sobat River. The next morning they continued shelling the government troops and then advanced into the airstrip and market, occupying and holding these areas.
CTSAMM, which is chaired by Ethiopian general Molla Hailemariam concluded, “The engagement was initiated by the SPLM/A-IO who moved in and occupied areas – specifically the market and airstrip – which have been for a long time been acknowledged as firmly under Government Forces control. It is the opinion of the [monitors] that this attack was a planned aggressive action by SPLM/A-IO forces, and ass such it was in blatant violation of the PCTSA [permanent ceasefire].”
The report is based on eyewitness accounts by monitors at the UN base in Nasser and relies also interviews with rebel and government commanders.
Major General Thomas Tut, a rebel commander, told the ceasefire monitors on 2 August after the assault that the SPLM/A-IO “would not stop fighting until Dr Riek Machar returned to Juba and the Government cancelled the 28 States order.”
Fighting continued the next day when the government sent helicopter gunships to bomb SPLA-IO positions in the areas of the airstrip and market. In response the rebels moved into defensive positions close to the UNMISS camp to avoid being hit and they also threatened the next day to shoot down any aircraft coming into Nasser.
“This subsequently caused significant resupply problems for UNMISS and the MVT [Monitoring and Verification Team],” the report reads.
Sporadic fighting continued throughout August. SPLM/A-IO withdrew from the market and airstrip that it had occupied on 6 September, but clashes in the area continue.
The aim of the attack was to destroy the SPLA garrison in Nasser. Ceasefire monitors say that the areas targeted by the rebels in the offensive were “vital to the Government Forces garrison.”
Nasser County was controlled by SPLA-IO in the early part of the war but later the town was captured by government troops. Much of the town and surrounding villages have been depopulated as residences have fled to Ethiopia.