April 24, 2014(Addis Ababa) — The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA) would like to clarify and refute misleading reports and misunderstandings following the recapture of Bentiu Town, the Capital of Unity State, by our gallant forces on 16 April 2014.
Reports that our forces committed targeted killings of ‘innocent civilians’ and prisoners of war (POWs) in Bentiu immediately after the defeat of the South Sudan government forces is untrue and unfounded.
It is important to realize that the fight leading to the recapture of Bentiu involved conventional warfare tactics, hardware, and personnel. A substantial amount of heavy weapons and artillery were used. It is natural therefore, that such amount of combat can result in high level devastation of both lives and physical assets.
It must also be recalled that the recapture of Bentiu by the government was conducted jointly with active involvement of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SPLM-North, SLA-Manawi, SLA-Abdalwahid, Justice and Equality Movement) forces aligned with the Republic of South Sudan. We have substantial amount of evidence implicating the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) forces that were in Bentiu as our forces were battling the government forces.
The bodies lying around in the aftermath of the operation were those killed in active combat; not POWs as claimed by Toby Lanza, Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs. We refute the information that our forces massacred unarmed civilians. All civilians, traders and other vulnerable persons evacuated the town two (2) days earlier to safer places and UNMISS camps. Only Salva Kiir’s soldiers and SRF forces were left in Bentiu Town. The regime of Salva Kiir and SRF forces more than once has armed civilians to fight along their side. Fighters of SRF are known not to wear military uniforms while in South Sudan.
Reports that, our forces killed traders mainly from Darfur Region and other parts of the Sudan who took refuge in a mosque is totally inaccurate. It must be understood that the said mosque was used as an army garrison. The victims were soldiers hiding and firing from and around the mosque. Our force commanders vehemently deny any cold-blooded shooting of civilians or armed renegades inside the mosque.
The report that, a local radio station operated by our men broadcast clandestine messages against those loyal to governments, which included calling for rape of women, is not true and unacceptable in our culture. This is propaganda by the government of South Sudan, which is desperately trying to draw wrath of International Human Rights circles against us. The broadcasts in question called for surrender of the renegade soldiers, especially militia groups comprised of local people, which were loyal to the government. It is the government that has TV and radio morale orientation channels that broadcasts clandestine messages. The killing of refugees and IDPs seeking shelter and protection at UNMISS camp in Bor by pro-government force, was a direct result of the clandestine government propaganda.
In conclusion, we call upon our sympathizers, South Sudanese in general and the International Community not be carried away by cheap, clandestine and inaccurate information. We are a movement against injustice, wrong governance practices, dictatorship and coercion. We have and are making efforts to make our forces understand that they are fighting for lasting peace and prosperity in a country that does not disenfranchise its own citizens. Nevertheless, we will investigate the claims and take radical action against any perpetrator of war crimes. We also call upon the UNMISS to provide us with any hard evidence incriminating our men in war crimes. At the same time, we call upon the recently formed Commission of Inquiry to start its work immediately and make its finding public. We pledge to fully cooperate with it as a matter of duty.
Gen. Taban Deng Gai
Head of the SPLM/SPLA Delegation to the Peace Talks
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia