General Dau Aturjong Nyuol (File photo ST)
May 30, 2014 (NAIROBI) – A senior army general in the South Sudan army (SPLA) from the dominant Dinka ethnic group has declared switching his allegiance to the rebel group led by the former vice president, Riek Machar.
The commander of the SPLA division 6, General Dau Aturjong, on Friday declared his defection to the opposition forces in a press conference he addressed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi on Friday.
“I have decided to take up arms in order to liberate my people from Salva Kiir’s regime. I have declared today to join the SPLM/A under the leadership of Dr. Riek Machar Teny,” he announced.
Gen Aturjong, a member of the South Sudan’s largest community, the Dinka, hails from Northern Bahr el Ghazal state which has the biggest population of the community.
In 2010 he contested for the gubernatorial seat to lead the state as an independent candidate and accused the SPLM-backed former governor, Gen Paul Malong Awan, of rigging the votes.
Awan, a close ally to president Kiir who allegedly played role in organising the massacre of thousands of members of the Nuer community in Juba in mid-December, was recently appointed as the new chief of general staff in the army.
However, Aturjong who is Awan’s arch rival and influential figure in the state, has urged the Aweil community of Northern Bahr el Ghazal to withdraw their support from president Kiir, accusing him of dictatorship and mass killing of the people of South Sudan.
“Salva Kiir and his minority clique in Juba fabricated lies of an alleged coup and killed innocent Nuer civilians in Juba resulting to the crisis. I urge the people of Aweil community not to support him or fight for him,” he further appealed.
The notorious general was accompanied by a number of former members of parliament from his home state as well as leaders of Aweil community residing in Kenya who also confirmed their defection to the SPLM/A in opposition along with Aturjong.
“I want to tell the Dinka community that the war is a [national] resistance, not tribal,” he added, vowing to fight militarily to remove president Kiir from power, arguing that “war is an alternative mechanism to bring peace.”
The declaration came days after the chief rebel leader, Riek Machar, arrived in the Kenyan capital and met with president Uhuru Kenyatta.
President Kiir was also on an abrupt visit to Nairobi at the time of the announcement.
Machar’s spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, welcomed the defection of the army general, saying his decision was a commendable step towards exerting more pressure on Salva Kiir to talk peace in good faith.
Dak also added that “the declaration further proved wrong the regime in Juba which intention was and still is to push for a tribal war between the Dinka and the Nuer ethnic groups.”
Gen Aturjong becomes the first senior army officer from the Dinka ethnic group to declare joining the rebels which fighters are predominantly from the Nuer community.
Observers say Aturjong’s defection may cause difficulty to president Kiir who allegedly recruits Dinka ethnic militia fighters mainly from the two states of Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal.
They further say the new move would encourage other politicians and military officers in other region who have been dissatisfied with the governing system.
In another setback for president Kiir’s regime, an influential group conglomerating around Ayii Ayii Akol, former member of National Legislative Assembly in Khartoum during the interim period prior to secession of the new nation from Sudan, announced his defection to the side of rebel leader, Riek Machar.
Akol, a son in-law to the current chief of general staff, Paul Malong Awan, made the announcement also in Nairobi, Kenya, on Friday, stressing that they would no longer accept to “remain lip tied and wait the country being torn apart at their watch”.
He said people hoped for change and patiently waited since the signing of the comprehensive Peace Agreement “but it turned out that their participations in the liberation struggle in any way at any capacity has been taken for granted by a clique who see themselves as more important than the country and our people”.
“This perception needs to be corrected now; otherwise our people would never see any light,” he further Akol told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
The government and SPLA spokespersons were not immediately available for comment on the defection. But some officials say these defections are unlikely to have a significant effect on the ability of the government to wage war against the insurgency and uphold constitutional mandate.
Anthony Sabit, an activist based in Juba, described the new development as “unfortunate”, stressing that political differences are never resolved through military means but peaceful dialogue.
“The emerging culture favouring military option as the best means to resolve political differences is contributing to the endless suffering of our people and must not be encouraged,” Sabit said on Friday.