By Deng Machol
Juba – Forces loyal to former SPLA-IO General Chief of Staff Simon Gatwech Dual and Vice President Dr. Riek Machar have reportedly engaged in a full-scale military confrontation in the country’s far north, Upper Nile State, senior officials confirmed.
The clash comes less than a week after a Gen. Gatwech-led faction announced the Kitgwang Declaration removing Dr. Machar as the chairman of party and its army forces and appointing ex – army chief Gatwech to act on an interim basis.
The group said the decision was reached at SPLA-IO headquarter in Magenis near Sudan border after several disagreements between Dr. Riek and his former Chief of staff Gen. Gatwech over the peace implementation.
Both the factions army spokesperson has confirmed the fresh fighting has started at the daybreak in Magenis – SPLM – IO strong hold in northern Upper State on Saturday.
However, Dr. Machar’s army spokesperson Col. Lam Paul Gabriel and Gen. Gatwech (SPLM – IO Kitwang) army spokesperson Brig. Gen. William Gatjiath Deng are trade accusations.
“The anti-peace forces of Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual moved out of their trenches in Magenis and launched an aggressive attack against the SPLA-IO forces in Gezan,” Lam said in a statement.
“The SPLA-IO forces responded in self-defense and repulsed the aggressors back to Magenis killing two Major Generals and injuring over 27 enemy soldiers. The SPLA-IO force destroyed one APC, Zuu 23 and 14.5mm, and also captured one Ural mounted with Zuu 23, and over 20 Ak47,” Col. Lam added.
Machar’s army spokesperson further the enemy forces destroyed one 107mm while one tank T55 developed a mechanical problem. Three (3) freedom fighters were killed in action and 13 others sustained gunshot wounds.”
Meanwhile, Kitwang faction’s spokesperson Brig. Gen. William Gatjiath Deng accused forces loyal to Machar of initiating aggression.
“The forces loyal to the former Chairman Dr. Riek Machar, have attacked Magenis (Kitgwang) HQs right now. The mightiest force all under command of the Interim Chairman and Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual, has heavily confronted them,” Deng said.
Earlier in a press statement, Lt. Gen. Gabriel Duop Lam, SPLM-IO Acting Chief of General Staff and Co-Chair of the Joint Defense Board, claimed that the internal political tension within the movement was sponsored by a peace partner.
The Acting Chief of General Staff also warned that the Machar faction will respond in self-defense to any aggression.
“The SPLA-IO under the leadership of H.E. Dr. Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon would like to assure its supporters and the South Sudanese general public that it is in full command and control of all the forces in its 8 Sectors and the Divisions therein,” Gabriel added. “The SPLA-IO remains committed to the implementation of the Transitional Security Arrangement and reserves the right to self-defense when aggressed.
Col. Lam also claims that Gatwech and his erstwhile ally Johnson Ulony have been airlifted to Sudan adding that Khartoum should not take a side but ensure that the pair are not allowed to instigate insecurity at the border.
“The SPLA-IO is aware that Gen. Gatwech Dual and Lt. Gen. Johnson Ulony were evacuated to Sudan. The SPLA-IO leadership requests the Sudan Government to maintain its neutrality by keeping the two in Sudan and not to allow them to come back and cause more insecurity in the area,” Lam said in the statement.
Edmund Yakani, Executive Director of CEPO said the conflicting parties need to cease military confrontations now and resolve their grievances in non-violent manner.
“The citizens of South Sudan are tired of the armed violence. The Leadership of the conflicting SPLM-IO factions should take responsibility to dialogue and find solution for sorting out their misunderstanding immediately,” said Yakani in the press statement.
“This negative development that undermines the process for transitioning the situation across the South Sudan from violence to peace is clear demonstration of some political and military leaders’ lack of will for implementing the signed Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan. The primary responsibility of implementing the R-ARCSS provisions is at the hands of the parties that signed the R-ARCSS,” he stressed
The civil body urge the conflicting factions of the SPLM-IO to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement, 2017.
Mr. Yakani is calling upon IGAD leadership to immediately intervene for resolving this internal SPLM-IO frictions that has already lead to military confrontation.
According to observers, this negative development among the conflicting SPLM-IO is due to impose threat on peace deal and it will undermine the implementation of the R-ARCSS chapter directly.
Despite the formation of transitional government of national unity in February 2020 but the peace deal remains fragile to end the country’s five year of conflict that killed nearly 400,000 people and uprooted four million people from their homes.