November 7, 2017 (JUBA) – The leadership of South Sudan’s armed opposition faction loyal to the country’s former first vice-president Riek Machar has welcomed decision taken by officers and soldiers who defected from the government to join rebellion in protest over continued detention of ex-army chief Gen. Paul Malong Awan.
- South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar speaks during an interview with Reuters in Addis Ababa on July 9, 2014. (Photo Reuters/Tiksa Negeri)
The army defectors, led by Lt. Col Chang Garang, have threatened armed resistance against President Salva Kiir’s government.
Mainly hailing from South Sudan’s Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, the defectors accused the Juba government of creating disunity among people of South Sudan.
Garang, an ally of the former army chief, belonged to the sixth brigade of the second infantry division of the South Sudanese army.
The officer, however, deserted the army after a failed attempt to have him arrested for involvement in a botch move to arrest the former army chief.
In a statement extended to Sudan Tribune, the military officer claimed President Kiir was targeting people from Northern Bahr el Ghaza state and that 79 people from Aweil have been detained.
“Two people have already died in custody of the national security [service]”, partly reads the statement Garang issued on Tuesday.
“People are being detained without charges. I was in the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] Division 2 in Torit. I rebelled because the government wanted to arrest me. We want the people of South Sudan to be united,” it adds.
Garang, in the statement, openly declared his group has joined the Machar-led rebel group with intentions to topple the Juba regime.
“This is to inform the people of South Sudan, sons of Mading Aweil and the entire Dinka people that myself and my soldiers and officers do hereby declare defection to SPLA-IO”, reads the statement.
“We have joined forces to free Gen Malong Awan and Dr.Riek Machar has promised us to restructure the SPLA-IO military to consider the position of Gen Malong once he is free. I call upon all SPLA soldiers who are truly patriotic and have South Sudan in their heart to join hand with SPLA-IO in order to remove the genocidal regime of Salva Kiir,” it adds.
However, the military officer-turned rebel commander said he and his group of defectors opted to fight for a cause bigger than Aweil.
“Because I have committed myself for a cause bigger than Aweil, I decided to safe my life and the lives of my soldiers by declaring our allegiance to SPLA-IO under the able leadership of Dr. Riek Machar, the legitimate of the federal republic of South Sudan. The only organized and well-structured forces we found around Juba are those of SPLA-IO Major General Benjamin Gore Lojing, commander of the SPLA-IO’s 9th division who is highly disciplined leading to resistance”, further reads the statement.
Meanwhile, the armed opposition forces welcomed the decision taken by the defected army officers against the Juba regime.
“The SPLA IO appreciates Lt. Col Lual for his bold decision to become a real defender of freedom, justice and equality under the able leader Dr. Riek Machar Teny. We are calling upon any patriotic soldier under the Juba regime to choose the side of the people, not the corrupt individuals in Juba who are using them to defend their selfish interest,” Lam Paul Gabriel, the deputy rebel spokesperson said.
Last week, a senior military officer told Sudan Tribune that Garang could have defected from the army with more than six officers and about 200 armed men.
“The information we have now is that Lt. Chan Garang and Major Aguer Atak have gone with more than 200 men. Some of them are members of the Mathiang Anyor, Dinka affiliated militia, who came to Juba for different reasons from areas of their deployments across the country and particularly those who were deployed in Equatoria and Upper Nile,” the officer, who asked not to be identified, remarked.
Awan was one of the three officials recently sanctioned by the United States administration for undermining peace, security and stability in South Sudan.
The sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Sigal Mandelker said in September, implied freezing assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions, banning them from travelling to the U.S and preventing Americans from doing business with them.
The nearly four-year conflict in South Sudan had killed tens of thousands of people and driven more than 2 million children out of the country, the United Nations says.