London, Asharq Al-Awsat—South Sudan’s army has said that more than 60 soldiers loyal to rebel leader and former Vice-President Riek Machar have been killed.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, the spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Philip Aguer, said that the soldiers had been killed near the country’s border as they were fleeing government forces to Sudan to join Riek Machar.
“Those soldiers tried to enter Sudan after instructions from Riek Machar to join his troops, but the SPLA forces engaged with them and killed more than 60 of them. The other ones entered eastern Darfur,” Aguer said, adding that those killed were part of a group of between 200 and 300 soldiers at a military training center in Wau city, the capital of the Western Bahr El-Ghazal state.
He said they had escaped three months ago, and since then the defecting soldiers had kept moving between the Western Bahr El-Ghazal and Northern Bahr El-Ghazal states and the tropical forests. This is the first time soldiers have escaped from Western Bahr El-Ghazal, he said.
Renewed violence broke out in Northern Bahr El-Ghazal state last week amid fears that pro-Machar rebels would use the vast forests along the border with Sudan as a staging ground for attacks against the government.
In response to the violence in the Western and Northern Bahr El-Ghazal states, the government of South Sudan has asked the Sudanese government to confiscate rebels’ weapons and return the soldiers to South Sudan.
“The government of Sudan should disarm those soldiers and send their weapons back to us as per the agreement between the two countries and international norms,” Aguer said.
Meanwhile, the SPLA renewed its accusations against the pro-Machar rebels, saying they have breached the ceasefire agreement between the two sides in a number of areas in the Upper Nile and Unity states.
Aguer said the rebel troops had attacked a number of areas with heavy artillery, including the cities of Wang-Kay and Mankien in the Unity state and other counties in the Upper Nile state, particularly the town of Nasir.
An offensive was launched two days ago on Atar Ardeb in the Upper Nile which left 20 civilians killed, he said, adding they were also expecting an “attack on the Ayod area [in Jonglei] because the pro-Machar troops are now moving toward it and have obstructed citizens’ movement.”
The military official added: “Some commanders among Machar’s forces have rejected the ceasefire agreement point-blank and announced that it does not concern them.”
In May, a ceasefire deal was signed in Ethiopia by the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and rebel leader Riek Machar, under growing international pressure to end inter-ethnic fighting.
Violence erupted in December following a long power struggle between Kiir and Machar, the latter of whom was Sudan’s vice president in Kiir’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party until his dismissal in 2013. The fighting between troops backing Kiir and soldiers loyal to Machar has seen more than 1 million people flee their homes, amid allegations of abuses on both sides. A previous ceasefire accord struck in January quickly collapsed, with each side blaming the other for fighting that has exacerbated deep-rooted tensions between Kiir’s ethnic Dinka community and Machar’s Nuer people.