South Sudan: Rivals Trade Accusations Over Fresh Violence in Upper Nile Region
Rival forces in South Sudan are trading accusations once again, this time over fresh violence in the Upper Nile region.
Clashes broke out between forces loyal to President Kiir and rebels who support vice-president Riek Machar on Monday and Tuesday. The fighting in Unity State, Koch County, Ulang and Nasir Counties are the latest in a spate of violence to contravene the country’s peace deal signed in August last year.
Gunfire, accusations exchanged
Reports suggest 15 people were killed in the violence across Upper Nile State earlier this week, but no official figures have been released. The rival sides appear to be more concerned with placing responsibility on each other at this stage – the standard procedure following violence in South Sudan.
Lieutenant General Johnson Gony Biliu told Sudan Tribune the outbreaks of violence were down to “anti-peace elements” from within the SPLA-IO which has fought against the government for more than two years now.
“This must be the work of some anti-peace elements within the SPLM-IO forces,” he told the publication.
‘An isolated incident’ until proven otherwise
However, Biliu was clear to point out that actions by certain parts of the SPLA-IO don’t necessarily mean they were following orders by the group’s leadership.
“It must not be treated as a planned and coordinated attack because their leaders in Juba are talking about their preparations to leave to Juba as part of security arrangements,” he said. “So we will treat it as an isolated incident until it is proved there was intention to derail the peace by the leadership of SPLM-IO.”
Meanwhile, minister Tuach of the Latjor state government said SPLA-IO soldiers were simply fighting back in self-defence after government troops initiated the attacks.
“The governor here spoke to our SPLA high command and was informed that our forces in the area did not go out to any of the positions held by the SPLA-IO forces. They were the ones who came out to attack the positions of our forces and so they had to return fire in self-defense,” he said.
South Sudan’s peace process is fragile and an overreaction by the government’s SPLA forces could derail the minor steps of progress that have been made in recent months. How much control leaders Kiir and Machar have over their respective forces has been a case for debate and concern throughout the peace process.