The body tasked with monitoring the South Sudan cease-fire agreement said the latest deadly fighting between two factions of the SPLA-In Opposition in Upper Nile and Unity states threatens the country’s fragile peace.
Speaking during a monitoring mechanism technical committee meeting in Juba Tuesday, Asrat Denero Amad, chair of the Ceasefire Transitional Security Arrangement Monitoring and Verification Mechanism, said tensions between a faction allied to Simon Gatwich and forces loyal to First Vice President Riek Machar have been fighting in Unity and Upper since February 11.
“Armed clashes between the signatories [to the Peace agreement] have significantly undermined the permanent cease-fire. There is tension in Unity state since Mirmir cantonment site was overrun on Feb. 11 by Kit-Gwang elements and armed youth reportedly instigated by the Koch County Commissioner,” Amad told VOA English to Africa’s South Sudan in Focus radio program.
The fighting spread to Mayendit and Leer Counties where the SPLA-IO forces were reportedly attacked by the Koch and Mayendit County Commissioners, Amad said.
Other attacks occurred in Western Equatoria state by the hold-out opposition group National Salvation Front led by Thomas Cirilo, which refused to sign the 2018 peace deal. Tensions remain high in Tambura County of Western Equatoria state said Amad, where fighting that began in 2021 has displaced nearly 80,000 civilians.
Colonel Lam Paul Gabriel, spokesperson for the SPLA-IO Machar faction, agrees the permanent cease-fire is under threat but accuses government forces controlled by President Salva Kiir of breaking the cease-fire by attacking SPLA-IO positions in Unity and Upper Nile states.
The opposition Gatwich faction signed a defection agreement with the SPLM In Government in January this year and have been fighting alongside South Sudan Peoples Defense Force (SSPDF) since that time, said Colonel Gabriel.
“The SPLA-IO has sacrificed so much to make sure this peace is implemented right from the negotiations in 2018 to date. We are here in Juba and we are adhering to the cessation of hostilities agreement,” Gabriel told South Sudan in Focus.
SSPDF spokesperson Major General Lul Ruai Koang admits some skirmishes have erupted between SSPDF and SPLA-IO forces in Unity and Upper Nile states but does not agree with Amad’s assertion that the cease-fire is under threat.
“I would respectfully disagree with his overall assessment that the cease-fire is in danger. When you say that, then you’re putting things together without differentiating them. [The] cease-fire would be in danger if the two parties are in serious hostilities, for instance, the SSPDF and the SPLA-IO,” General Koang said.
Suba Samuel, spokesperson of the National Salvation Front, told VOA the NAS is not adhering to any cease-fire because it was already violated by the government in Juba.
“In our own assessment and in the basic assessment of every South Sudanese, there is no cease-fire going on in the country, nor even the implementation of the agreement. But what I know is that all these wars, especially in the Upper Nile, are facilitated by Juba,” Samuel said. Samuel denied the NAS was involved in any recent skirmishes.
Chuol Deng Thon, spokesperson of the Kitwang faction, denied his group had fought the SPLA-IO Machar faction in Unity and Upper Nile state and said the recent fighting in Unity state was strictly between communities that support the government and those that support the SPLA-IO-Machar faction.
“There are supporters of the SPLM-In government and supporters of the SPLM-IO of Riek Machar. These are the people fighting now in Unity state and they are fighting along tribal lines. We are not part of that,” Thon told VOA.
The U.N. mission in South Sudan said in a statement Monday that at least 72 civilians were killed and 64 women and girls were raped between February and April in Unity state’s Leer County. UNMISS chief Nicholas Haysom said human rights violations were documented during a surge in violence carried out by armed youth from Koch and Mayendit Counties.