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South Sudan: Who Controls Waat of Bieh State, ICRC Accused of Supplying Weapons!

An ICRC employee talks about international humanitarian law to soldiers of the South Sudan Armed Forces (SPLA). -(Photo: ICRC archive)
An ICRC employee talks about international humanitarian law to soldiers of the South Sudan Armed Forces (SPLA). -(Photo: ICRC archive)

Oct 8th, 2017(Nyamilepedia) — For nearly a week, South Sudan’s warring factions led by President Salva Kiir against his former deputy, Dr. Riek Machar, have contested the once strategic stronghold of Machar’s SPLA forces, Waat of Bieh State.

The two spokesmen of the main warring factions, Brig. Gen. Lul Ruai Koang of Kiir’s SPLA and Brig. Gen. William Gatjiath Deng of SPLA-IO, have both claimed victories and control of Waat. The two reports cannot be independently verified due to ongoing hostilities.

Although the regime’s spokesman has claimed repulsing the rebels with huge casualties, Lul decries that the ICRC could not pick up their wounded soldiers in Waat because the rebels’ operations couldn’t allow the ICRC planes to land safely, a report his opponent, Brig. Gatjiath, has confirmed.

“Rebels Endangered Lives of ICRC Staffers. This is to inform the people of South Sudan, the region and the international community that rebels loyal to Riek Machar put at serious risk the precious lives of Pilots working for ICRC when they deliberately targeted with Mortar Fires an Aircraft that had landed at Waat Airstrip to collect people wounded following two days of fighting in the area.” Brig. Lul said.

“The operation had to to be aborted after three Mortar Shells landed and exploded extremely very close to ICRC’s operated Aircraft. The rebel’s irresponsible action was a direct violation of a Three Hour Trace they had reached with the ICRC in order to evacuate the wounded from both sides.” Lul continued.

The Brigadier General, who once volunteered as Machar’s army spokesman, claims that the two warring factions agreed to allow the ICRC to airlift the wounded soldiers on both sides to Juba and Akobo, respectively.

Juba is now bitter that Machar’s faction has violated the unsigned agreement and their wounded soldiers are stranded without any medical attention while the SPLA-IO has evacuated their wounded soldiers and civilians to Akobo where they are receiving treatment.

According to Machar’s SPLA spokesman, the ICRC should wait for relative calm to be restored in Waat or until one faction controls the whole area before attempting to land for security and safety reasons.

Gatjiath said it was not possible for the ICRC to land due to intensity of the ongoing fighting in Waat.

“Given the intensity and ferocity of the ongoing fighting in and around Waat, it could never have been possible for the two ICRC planes to either land or evacuate anyone, until the Juba regime forces are cleared and Waat is once again safe and secure for civilian movement, humanitarian access, landing and services. As a responsible Movement, we will keep the public updated on the situation in and around Waat.” Gatjiath said.

ICRC Accused of Supplying Weapons

According to rebels’ intelligence sources, the ICRC activities in Waat were suspicious.

The rebels claim that the nongovernmental organization was supplying the government troops with weapons and therefore they were forced to terminate their landing.

According to Brig. Gen. William Gatjiath Deng, their forces control the Waat airstrip and over 90% of the town except the main barrack where the government troops have dug trenches and fenced-in using an electric fence to prevent them from retreating.

The rebels have controlled Waat and its surrounding since the beginning of the conflict until April this year, giving them the confident to fight on in attempt to retake it from the government troops.

ICRC Concerns

On the other hand, the ICRC has expressed deep concerns about the fate of the wounded in Waat fighting and calls on both sides to clear the airport for their landing.

“We are very concerned about the fate of wounded out of this conflict and those who need medical assistance” Robin Waudo, ICRC Communication Coordinator, told Eye Radio on Thursday.

Mr. Waudo says the ICRC has evacuated about 22 people who were wounded in the recent fighting in Waat.

“Right now is difficult for us to get access to them because they need to be evacuated from where they are and this involves talking to parties to the conflict with whom we are in contact,” he continued.

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