South Sudan’s former rebels defecting the government, a violation of amnesties?

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SSLA Commander Matthew Puljang addresses a crowd in Mayom, Unity State, early May 2013(Photo: Chimreporters)

April 14, 2014(Nyamilepedia) — The recent heavy fighting in Unity state is marked by renewed defections. 565 former SSLA rebels who have been loyal to the government have switched allegiance to the armed opposition, under the leadership of Dr. Riek Machar Teny.

In a report released by the Upper Nile Time, 3 soldiers among the defected troops are believed to be Gen. Puljang’s body guards. The troops defected on Sunday after the government troops were reportedly defeated in parts of Unity state.

The report has also confirmed a phone conversation between the two rival commanders,  Maj.Gen. Koang Chuol Ranley, who is commanding the rebel forces and Gen. Mathew Puljang, who is commanding the SSLA rebels backing the Juba government.

Maj. Gen. Koang issued an ultimatum for his opponent, Gen. Puljang, to surrender and join his forces or “risk being caught alive”, however, Gen. Puljang hesitated.

“We have spoken to Gen.Puljang on the phone and told him to surrender and join us or we will catch him alive and deal with him. So far he’s not heeding to our calls but we have given him up to 5 hours to make up his mind”, Koang warned.

Maj. Gen. Koang has reported capturing sizable portion of the state in the last two days and threatens to overrun the government’s strong holds, the state capital, Bentiu.

“Our forces have been battling the regime forces since Sunday after they attempted to attack us in our location. We have killed many of their troops in that attack alone. In the evening, we followed them up to the outskirt of Bentiu and fought them there again”, Gen. Koang continued.

Government’s response to rebels’ circulations

John Malok, the Unity State Security Advisor, has confirmed the attacks to Radio Tamazuj, admitting that the armed opposition has attacked Tor-Abieth, however, he failed to acknowledge if the government forces are still in control of Tor-Abieth.

“We are clashing with the rebels. These coup plotters came from morning and attacked our forces in a place called Tor Abiath because the force they found there was small. We are clashing with them at the junction of Tor Abiath,” he said.

Report from Juba has, however, denied the rebel’s reports.

Col. Philip Aguer, the SPLA spokesperson, believes that the rebels, which came from the oil rich border town of Heglig were repulsed and chased back to their hideout, after a serious battle in an unnamed oil fields in the state.

“The forces loyal to Dr Riek Machar came from Panthou [Heglig] this morning,” Col. Aguer briefed Radio Tamazuj.

Heglig, which has been calm since 2012, produces most of the Sudan’s oil that drives the Sudanese’s economy.

“They launched an attack on the oil field north of Unity State and looted one vehicle which belongs to the oil workers in the fields,” Aguer continued.

Contrary to the rebels’ report, Col. Aguer reiterates that the government’s loyal forces, comprising of two battalions, are still in control of the Unity State oil fields and instead, the allied forces are pursuing the rebels toward Sudan’s border.

“Now our forces are chasing after them, they are retreating,” he said,

The government resumed control of some parts of the state, including Bentiu, in late January from the military governor, Maj. Gen. James Koang, who defected to escape an alleged assassination in December.

Maj. Gen Koang, believes that his forces withdrew after the Sudanese rebels, JEM, directly involved in the conflict.

Rebels Defections

The reported split in SSLA rebels, under the command of Gen. Mathew Puljang mark one of the latest rebels defection. The rebel groups which accepted amnesties in 2013 dominated the loyal forces fighting the SPLA [in opposition] in Upper Nile and Unity states.

Reported by the Sentiment Satellite project, the South Sudan Democratic Army(SSDA) under the leadership of Gen. Johnson Olony, split during the recent fighting in Manyo County. Ayok Ogat, the deputy who was commanding the rebels after Johnson Olony was shot in Malakal in mid February defected to the SPLA -in opposition.

“The split in the SSDM/A between Olony and Ogat reflects the long list of grievances the Shilluk community have with the government, including a violent disarmament campaign in 2010 and a longstanding land dispute over three contested areas with the Dinka people in Upper Nile. There have been reports of targeted violence against the Shilluk in Malakal for Olony’s support of the SPLA.” The part of the report reads.

In other reports, the rebels groups under the leadership of Gai Yoai also defected to rebels in Upper Nile state. The spokesperson of the SPLA has confirmed to the Catholic radio that the opposition forces which captured Kaka last week were backed by the rebels under Gai Yoai.

More than 5 rebels groups emerged in the last few years, opposing the leadership of Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardiit. The rebels groups accepted amnesties, however, most of them were not fully integrated into the SPLA main stream.

While Maj. Gen. Athor Deng and Col. Gatluak Gai were killed in controversial circumstances, Maj. Gen Peter Gatdet Yaka, who is now leading anti-government operations in Jonglei state and Maj. Gen. Tanginye, who is leading anti-government operations in Upper Nile state, were arrested for nearly two years after flying to Juba to negotiate amnesties with the government.

With the exception of Gen. Mathew Puljang who is currently fighting for the government in Unity state and David Yau Yau, who is skeptically monitoring to secure the Greater Pibor Area Administration (GPAA), recently agreed with the government. Other rebel groups have joined the SPLA in opposition.

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