London, Asharq Al-Awsat—South Sudan Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk described reports of his resignation circulating in the country’s media as “harmful rumors,” saying they were attempts to divide the South Sudanese government.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Juuk said the reports, which have appeared in a number of Sudanese newspapers and on websites in recent days, were “totally false.”
“If there is a resignation to be made, I will not present it to the newspapers or the websites; I will present it to the president,” he said.
Juuk maintained he still held his post as minister, and that “those who started the rumors and those who believed them were trying to divide the [government] and create differences which do not exist between [its] members . . . They are harmful rumors.”
He also denied he had any differences with the country’s army chief, Gen. Paul Malong Awan. Sudanese daily Sudan Tribune had reported that there were tensions between Juuk and Awan, with the army chief having been reportedly sidestepping Juuk to communicate with President Salva Kiir directly.
Fighting between government forces loyal to Kiir and rebels belonging to his former vice-president, Riek Machar, has been raging in South Sudan since December.
The fighting has spread throughout the country and has taken on a volatile ethnic dimension, with members of the Dinka ethnic group, to which Kiir belongs, clashing with those of Machar’s Nuer group.
Thousands have been killed in the conflict, with more than a million forced to flee their homes to escape the fighting and what the UN says are atrocities against civilians committed by both sides.
A ceasefire, brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)—an eight-country block of African states also comprising Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda—was signed between the two sides in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on May 10.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, South Sudan army spokesman Philip Aguer, however, alleged that Machar’s rebels had violated the truce. “The government has made more than 20 complaints [to IGAD] about violations by rebel forces since the signing of the ceasefire agreement, but as yet we have not received any replies to the complaints, allowing Machar’s forces to continue their attacks against civilians,” he said.
But he said the military situation in the country was still under the control of government forces and that the observation team from IGAD was monitoring events alongside the UN peacekeeping forces. “[Government forces] are in control of Nasser city and parts of Jonglei State and Unity State, as well as the remainder of the Upper Nile region,” he said.
He added that the IGAD observers, who include officers from member states, had started to be deployed in specific areas in South Sudan, and that the UN peacekeeping delegation was providing them with logistic support.
“The observers have the power and capacity to move into any area in South Sudan, despite the fact that the forces which are supposed to be deployed by IGAD have been greatly delayed,” Aguer said.