March 31, 2014 (JUBA) – Senior security officers in South Sudan’s border state of Western Bahr el Ghazal have defected to rebel forces under the leadership of former vice-president Riek Machar.
The officers made the public declaration at Farajallah, an area located about 40km south-west of state capital Wau, where sources claim they announced they were leaving “the most corrupt and tyrannical regime” in South Sudan to join the “people’s revolution”.
The leader of the group remains unknown, although Western Bahr el Ghazal police commissioner Gen. Akot Deng Akot identified one of the officers as Maj. Martin Logo.
In a statement broadcast by state-owned South Sudan Television (SSTV) on Sunday, Akot said the security situation in the state remained relatively calm despite the defections.
Logo’s desertion was reportedly related to an offer from the rebel movement to promote him to the rank of Major General.
The whereabouts of Logo and the officers remained unknown, although security authorities have launched a search.
According to Akot, authorities in the area have been closely monitoring the activities of some politicians and officers, including Logo.
Some sources suggested the officers may have been smuggled out of area during an attempt to launch a rebellion in Wau town at the airport and Busere area.
Dozens of army generals have defected since political tensions erupted in violence in mid-December last year, pitting pro-Machar rebels against forces loyal to the Salva Kiir-led national government.
Zonal commanders from the South Sudanese army’s (SPLA) 8th, 4th and 7th divisions were among those to switch their allegiance from the government.
Maj. Gen. Peter Gadet Yak, who was commanding the SPLA’s 8th division in Jonglei state, was the first senior military officer to break ranks and declare armed opposition to the government.
General Yak claimed his action was necessitated by the killing of innocent civilians from his Nuer ethnic group in Juba by SPLA forces.
It is alleged that the atrocities were predominantly carried out by members of the Dinka ethnic group from Kiir’s Bahr el Ghazal region.
Prior to his defection, Yak had been responsible for the state’s disarmament process, overseeing the collection of firearms and other illicit weapons in the region.
James Koang Chuol, a 4th division commander, followed suit, declaring himself Unity state’s caretaker governor. He claimed he had been under pressure from officers to act or risk being killed.
Thousands of South Sudanese soldiers from the Nuer ethnic group have either defected or fled the country over the past few months, although the numbers have not yet reached a level that would threaten the regime and most of the complex infrastructure of the government’s multiple security and intelligence branches remains in place.
Politicians from the Bahr el Ghazal region are currently participating in peace talks in Ethiopia being mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) as part of the Machar-led delegation.
Representatives from the Greater Equatoria region who share the same views on the root cause of the conflict have also declared their support for Machar.
Observers have expressed fear it is only a matter of time before mass defection and recruitment across the country takes place against the government, which has been widely criticised for failing to deliver basic services and adequate protection to ordinary citizens and their properties, particularly in the three states of the Upper Nile region.
One local observer who spoke on condition of anonymity told Sudan Tribune on Monday that citizens have increasingly lost trust in the current administration and are looking for change.
The alleged involvement of the army in ethnic-related violence had also raised tensions, he said.
“The destruction of cities and villages, and the commission of massacres against certain ethnic group and people – mostly defenceless civilians who [knew] little about political differences – had prompted many military officers and politicians to switch allegiance,” he added.