S. Sudan army commander warns against launching counter-offensive
July 23, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudanese army commander has warned against launching a major offensive on the rebel fighters allied to former vice-president Riek Machar amid repeated violations to a ceasefire agreement signed by both warring parties.
- Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) celebrate after recapturing Unity state capital Bentiu from rebel forces in January (Photo: Reuters)
General Paul Malong Awan, the national army’s (SPLA) chief of general staff, made the remarks at a news conference on Tuesday.
The public address was the first since the former Northern Bahr el Ghazal state governor’s new military appointment. Also, it comes amid a fresh outbreak of violence between government troops and rebels in Upper Nile state’s Nasir and Jonglei state’s Ayod in recent days.
However, Awan cautioned against interpreting the restraint of the government army as a sign of weakness.
“Let nobody think we are not capable of taking back all these areas,” Awan told reporters.
Awan further explained that attacks by government troops on the rebel positions before the 9 May agreement between president Salva Kiir and Machar were deliberately ‘calculated’ to gain ground prior to the signing of a deal, which recommitted the government to an earlier cessation of hostilities agreement.
Prior to the May deal, he further said, troops from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) had been advancing on several fronts, even reaching strategic Upper Nile town Nasir, before pulling back after the government instructed military forces to honour the terms of the agreement.
“We were advancing in all fronts, but on the way we got instructions from [the] commander-in-chief that they have signed [a] cessation of hostilities [agreement] in Addis Ababa, and immediately we put our operation off where we were,” he added.
Government troops and pro-Machar forces have been engaged in bloody fighting since conflict erupted in mid-December last year amid escalating political tensions in the ruling SPLM party.
The renewed 9 May ceasefire agreement followed a meeting between president Salva Kiir and Machar in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa – their first since the conflict erupted.
At the time, Awan said, the SPLA had been moving from Gadiang toward Ayod and Poktap, as well as advancing from Malakal to Baliet, Ulang and Nasir, where they were preparing to take areas beyond.
“They (rebels) did not stop us. We wanted to take all the areas beyond Nasir, said Awan, adding the army had also been making significant gains on other fronts from Guel Guk towards Mangok, Mathiang, Maiwut and Pagak.
Awan’s remarks have drawn mixed reactions amid claims the statements confirm that government troops had deliberately accelerated military operations in the Upper Nile region in days leading up to the renewed 9 May agreement following a meeting.
Critics claim the apparent show of military strength ahead of the meeting represents a clear violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement signed by both sides.
On 23 January 2014, the warring parties in south Sudan signed a cessation of hostilities, after one month of the eruption of the crisis . The IGAD heads of states and governments last May, nonetheless, had to gather Kiir and Machar, in Addis Ababa for the first time since the start of hostilities to recommit themselves personally to observe the truce.
The latest outbreak of violence in South Sudan has sparked international condemnation, with UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon urging Machar to immediately case all offensive operations in Nasir and other points.
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