South Sudan People Defense Force (SSPDF) spokesperson Major General Lul Ruai Koang told South Sudan in Focus SSPDF forces have been dispatched to Mayom County to arrest the perpetrators and restore calm.
“It’s with heavy heart that I would like to confirm to listeners of VOA that on 22rd of July rebels loyal to renegade General Stephen Buay Rolnyang have assassinated the commissioner of Mayom County Honorable James Chuol Gatluak in Mayom town, headquarters of Mayom County. That was a very clear assassination of a political figure,” General Koang told VOA.
Residents are fleeing for safety to nearby bushes and villages, said Unity state information minister David Gai.
“There was a fighting in which the [rebels] attacked the commissioners’ residential area and killed some people not yet confirmed and the commissioner himself was killed inside the house with two bodyguards,” Gai told VOA.
SSPDF soldiers have launched a massive manhunt for the attackers, said Koang.
“They will pay a very huge price for the crime they have committed,” said Koang, adding, “It’s a declaration of war on the people of Mayom, the people of Unity state and on the people of South Sudan.”
In an exclusive interview with South Sudan in Focus, Buay said the attack by his forces was motivated by revenge.
“What happened in Mayom this morning was a retaliation for an attack on our location at a place called Bong area on July 21, 2022 to by Major General Chuol Gatluak, the overall commander of pro-regime militias in Mayom County and he himself is a commissioner at the same time, so our forces responded by attacking them” said Buay.
The rebel leader also said Gatluak’s house was their prime target and “was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade resulting in his demise.”
In a July 22 letter signed by Buay, the South Sudan People’s Army claimed responsibility for the attack. “Our people have been travailed by the regime [in Juba]. They are unable to work together to achieve justice and freedom to confide in each other,” said Buay in the statement.
All forms of “peaceful and nonviolent means have failed and we are left only with an armed resistance to liberate our people by unseating this despotic regime,” added Buay in the statement.
The rebel leader vowed to expand his movement to other regions around the country saying, he would fight government forces in the Bahar el Ghazal region and attack oil fields in the Upper Nile region.
“My next move is to fight the government, to fight the regime on all fronts where my forces are,” Buay told VOA.
National security agents in Mayom County arrested Buay, the former commander of the 5th infantry division of the SSPDF, in late 2018. He was then detained in Juba after being charged with treason, rebellion and other offenses.
In August 2019, Buoy pleaded not guilty, but a military court in Juba found him guilty as charged. Buay was stripped of his rank, dismissed from the army and sentenced to one year in prison.
Buay later declared he had joined General Paul Malong’s South Sudan United Front group shortly after President Salva Kiir pardoned him.