The Chairman and Commander-in-Chief of the SPLM/SPLA (IO), Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, has appointed Lt. General John Jok Gai as Sector Commander for Central Equatoria.
The appointment comes after Machar was dismissed as First Vice President of South Sudan and replaced with Gen Taban Deng Gai.
His spokesperson James Gatdet Dak says Machar’s forces are “doing great in self-defence against the attacking forces loyal to President Salva Kiir”.
“Our forces have captured 21 military trucks with their logistics, including food belonging to enemy forces. Juba is besieged from different directions as we speak,” Dak said.
He called for deployment of the proposed third force in Juba, or else Machar “will be forced to act further and march to Juba in order to restore peace and security in the capital”.
“It is unfortunate that lives of soldiers are being wasted in the forests around Jub as hundreds are reported to have been killed on the side of the enemy forces for the past two days.”
Speaking to Sudan Tribune, Machar warned that his troops may soon take over Juba.
Tribune reports that heavy fighting has been going on for the past three days in the bushes around Juba as at least 10,000 troops loyal to President Kiir, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, have been battling forces loyal to Machar in hunting him down from where he has been “hiding around Juba.”
Hundreds of wounded soldiers have already been brought back to the hospitals in Juba as a result of the fighting in the forests, with hundreds more feared dead on both sides.
Machar has however warned for the first time that if the attacks continued and a third force is not soon deployed to separate the two rival armies, he will order his troops to match on to Juba, with the aim to capture in order to restore peace and stability.
“My troops are ready to storm the capital Juba and take control,” Machar told the Turkish Anadolu Agency on Friday.
Since the renewed violence between his fighters and government troops on 8 July, Machar has been in hiding since 11 July, after four days of fighting with his 1,300 troops, after his residence was bombed using helicopter gunships to kill him.
“I went out of sight when I learned that the goal was to eliminate me,” he said in a telephone interview.
While Machar called for a third party force to take over the security of the capital, Juba, so that he could resurface and continue with the implementation of the peace agreement as First Vice President, President Kiir, probably seeing having an upper hand in the conflict at least during the start of the fighting, rejected any deployment of additional “single foreign soldier” in the capital.
Now with the fighting heavily escalating in many areas around Juba and with the two sides bringing in reinforcements from other locations, there are fears that the clashes may get closer to Juba and even renew inside the capital itself.
Heavy artillery gunshots were heard on Thursday when forces loyal to Machar reportedly came closer to Juba and clashed with President Kiir’s forces at Luri, his private heavily guarded base and farm for his cattle, but allegedly “got away with hundreds of cattle belonging to President Kiir.”
Machar said the peace implementation will not succeed unless a third force is deployed or he will take over the capital to restore stability.
“The implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement will not be possible without the deployment of IGAD peacekeeping forces to South Sudan,” Machar added.
The opposition leader who leads his party and commands a separate co-national army, added that his soldiers were more united than ever and claimed the renewed fighting had been orchestrated by Kiir in a bid to wreck the peace agreement signed in August last year.
He said he expected the African Union and the United Nations to oppose Gai’s appointment and deem it null and void.
Gai, who first said his controversial nomination by a few of his party officials was “temporary” to fill a “vacuum” until Machar returns to Juba to give him back the seat, however, on Thursday declared that he will stay in the position permanently until elections are conducted in 2018, and called on Machar to either come back to Juba and live as a mere ordinary citizen or stay away and live in exile.
(Additional reporting by Sudan Tribune)