A senior presidential aide in South Sudan’s government has claimed that several splits within the leadership of the armed opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) under the leadership of the First Vice President Designate, Riek Machar, was the cause for recent ceasefire violations in Nasir county of Latjor (Upper Nile) and Unity states.
Presidential advisor for security affairs, Tut Gatluak, toldSudan Tribune on Thursday that his office has continued to receive reports from the governors and SPLA commanders in the states of Unity and Upper Nile of repeated violations of ceasefire by forces allied to Machar.
“In areas of Leer, there are reports that the SPLM-IO forces have been attacking villages there. The same thing has been reported in areas around Nasir. When we ask JMEC [Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission] they say the SPLM-IO [is] committed to the implementation of ceasefire, but what is happening on the ground is different,” said Gatluak.
The senior presidential aide explained that his office has been working hard on the directives of the president to ensure that nobody is left out in the peace process.
“We have been talking to other groups to join peace so that they do not become an obstacle to the implementation. Actually the issue of splits is now one of the causes of the violations of ceasefire because some of the commanders who differed with Riek Machar may not be happy and they may be causing some problems,” he said.
His comments followed reports circulated on social media and internet based forums by Gordon Buay, one of government’s ambassadors, that two commanders of the SPLM-IO forces, who allegedly participated in the recent clashes around Nasir town on Tuesday, have defected from SPLA-IO. He said they told their supporters and members of their communities and clans that they are not any longer part of the peace agreement with Riek Machar.
Commander Reath Gai Tuach and commander James Duoth Lam Juk, according to the reports, have allegedly informed chiefs in areas under their control that they rejected the leadership of Machar.
The two commanders are reportedly having a force of 1,200 that included the White Army loyal to them. According to Buay, they already ordered their forces to besiege Nasir town and launched more attacks hoping that they would capture it. Both the commanders hail from Gajiok sub-clan of Jikany Nuer and are loyal to Duer Tut, who is the SPLM-IO Governor of Sobat state.
Duer Tut, according to Buay, is allegedly upset with reports alleging Machar has a plan to replace him with somebody from Gajaak sub-clan as a rebel governor. He allegedly ordered the two commanders to breakaway and attack Nasir town.
However, the armed opposition’s secretary for information, documentation and orientation in Sobat state, Kech Nguoth Tiem, who is under the leadership of governor Duer Tut, dismissed the allegations by the government.
Tiem claimed that the fighting around Nasir was sparked when several government forces deserted their barracks and joined the rebel movement’s base in Nyatot on 8 March.
The opposition official did not, however, mention total numbers of those who allegedly defected to the SPLA-IO in Sobat, but insisted that the defectors were “very many.”
He blamed the government for violating the ceasefire, saying they came out of the town and opened fire to the SPLA-IO forces in their position. According to the opposition official, government forces opened fire on the SPLA-IO forces in Ketbek station after the opposition group’s patrolling team who received the defectors refused to hand over those who defected.
If the government’s narrative is confirmed, the development would be the third split in the movement after Peter Gatdet and Gathoth Gatkuoth with seven other generals broke away from the group under Machar and called for his dismissal in August 2015.
Major General Makuac Teny also recently announced breaking away and formed his own movement. Government supporters have claimed that the third split involving Commander Duoth Lam and Reath Gai would serve as a proof that Machar has no control over armed opposition forces.
It would also be a reminiscent to the 1991 events when Machar’s faction of the SPLM broke up into splinter tribal and sectional factions after breaking away from the group under the overall command of the founding leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA), John Garang de Mabior.