Fighting within the SPLM-In Opposition Kitwang faction this week has left more than a dozen fighters dead in South Sudan.
18 soldiers were killed between Tuesday and Thursday after forces loyal to General Simon Gatwech Dual attacked forces supporting General Johnson Olony Thabo in Panyikang County of Upper Nile state according to Major General Sebit Koang, Deputy Secretary General for administration in the Kitwang faction.
“There were some elements within Kitwang, and they attacked their brothers in Panyikang. They called themselves the Gatwech Dual group. We are surprised by those attacks, General Koang told South Sudan in Focus, adding, “he is still our chairman and he ordered some soldiers to kill all those soldiers.”
The Kitwang forces loyal to Olony fought back in self-defense, said Koang.
“If Gatwech continues to attack and mobilize some elements within our forces to kill our soldiers, that can affect peace because we cannot wait until Gatwech finishes our soldiers. If Gatwech doesn't want peace, we can fight him,” Koang told VOA.
Speaking to South Sudan in Focus from Khartoum, Sudan, SPLA-IO Kitgwang military spokesperson Colonel Alfred Gach Thot confirmed the fighting in Upper Nile state but accused forces loyal to Olony of instigating the fighting.
“General Simon Gatwech Dual didn’t order his force to fight against his own force because Agwelek is one of the forces of Kitwang. What brings the problem is not within Kitwang leadership. This one was influenced by the Juba regime. They want us to divide ourselves,” Thot told VOA.
Recent local media reports quote Gatwech as saying the delays in the implementation of the South Sudan peace agreement prompted him to recall his advance team from Juba to Khartoum for consultations.
On February 1, a delegation of more than 30 military officers with the SPLM/Army-In Opposition (IO) Kitwang faction arrived in Juba to follow up on implementing the Khartoum Peace Agreement signed in January, 2022.
The deal between President Salva Kiir's SPLA-In Government group and the SPLM/A-IO Kitwang faction led by Gatwech allowed for the integration of Kitwang forces into the national army, the South Sudan People's Defense Forces (SSPDF). General Gatwech and General Olony, commander of the Agwelek forces, signed two separate agreements with Kiir’s faction.
The agreement also guarantees the implementation of the security arrangements, a permanent ceasefire, grants the Kitwang faction amnesty, and reintegration of the breakaway SPLA-IO forces into the SSPDF within three months.