South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir boasted to a gathering of the ruling party in Juba last Wednesday that his forces killed hundreds of Riek Machar’s bodyguards as the then-Vice President waited in desperation and worry over the fate of his men.
Machar and Kiir were both in the same room at the presidential palace known as ‘J1’ when a massive gun battle between their forces erupted on the evening of Friday, 8 July. The fighting that night left hundreds dead. A day of relative calm (9 July) was then followed by two days of fighting (10-11 July).
The president’s forces succeeded in driving Machar and his roughly 1300 SPLA-IO bodyguards from Juba after which he removed him from his position as first vice president by presidential decree. Machar fled by foot to Congo and later flew to Khartoum and then South Africa.
Kiir, in his speech before the SPLM leadership at Freedom Hall on Wednesday last week, boasted that none of Machar’s bodyguards who came with Machar to J1 for a meeting with Kiir on that fateful Friday survived.
The president claimed that Machar had come to J1 wanting to kill him but his plan was foiled. The claim echoes the story of an attempted coup d’etat that Kiir said took place in December 2013.
He explained to the SPLM meeting, “Now, the other thing, on 9th July when Riek Machar went to J1 with his loaded pistol he was going to go and kill me so that he becomes the president. He wanted this chair to fail vacant so that he becomes president. What did he do? His pistol was removed from him just right away before entering into the hall of the meeting.”
“We sat there three of us – myself, Dr. Riek and Comrade James Wani. We were there,” Kiir said.
Kiir continued: “And when the fighting, with the big force that he had brought, we were in a meeting. We did not complete that meeting. And he did not know the fate of his people, so he tried to call by phone to somebody – there was no response. So he began to look around like – like a taxi driver. [Laughter from crowd]. Oh wait, I will not say that. Ahaha.”
The president continued, “So it was he who came to kill me… [but] the people that he brought have been finished. If you can ask him – say to him, from the 400 and some that you brought to J1, how many casualties did you come back with?” he said, referring to the SPLA-IO bodyguards. “There was nobody.”
Kiir was speaking in a mix of English and Arabic.
For his part, Riek Machar has denied trying to kill Kiir. He says that it was the latter instead who tried to kill him. His spokesman has denied that the vice president carried a pistol into the presidential palace, saying Machar is a civilian and relies on his bodyguards for protection.
Although Kiir allowed Machar to go home from J1 to his complex on the western side of Juba that Friday, the complex was attacked the following Sunday. Machar says that Kiir’s forces made many attempts to kill him after the events of that Friday.
“When I went to my house the next day, which was on Saturday, we were expected that we would agree again to return back,” he told Radio Tamazuj in an interview last week.
Machar explained, “On Sunday and Monday there were continuous attacks on our positions in Juba. From Monday night we said to our forces that were there, ‘Brothers, let us go, because we did not come here to Juba to be killed. The number of troops that we had was 1370. And according to the agreement it was supposed to be 2910… they attacked us, we withdrew and we were pursued by land forces, air forces and we were attacked daily by air sometimes four times per day as we retreated.”
He pointed out that Saturday had been calm in Juba and they had been seeking burial of their soldiers who had been killed on Friday.
“We were in a defensive situation,” he said of their forces in Juba, insisting that the government deliberately launched organized attacks on them.”