July 25, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army (SPLA) says it has sent heavy military reinforcements to different areas where it is struggling to contain an armed rebellion under the former vice-president, Riek Machar.
The SPLA’s chief of general staff, General Paul Malong Awan, said the army was ready to defend the country and uphold its constitutional mandate to protect civilians and their properties.
“The duty of any army is to defend the country from any aggression, including attempts, whether within or outside to remove and install any system of government through means which are not constitutional,” said Awan at a briefing to soldiers Upper Nile state capital Malakal prior to their deployment.
“We also have the duty and constitutional mandate to protect the civilians and their properties anywhere within the territory of the Republic of South Sudan and we should not look to anybody [else] for this task”, he added.
Military sources say more than 1,200 fighters have been mobilised from different regions in the country to Nasir town and surrounding areas to fence it off from rebels, using commercial flights and military carriers
The move comes after the government warned it was considering launching a major offensive against rebel forces.
The army has bee struggling to contain rebel advances in some areas since both warning parties signed a ceasefire agreement in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in January.
Military sources say the orders were part of the duties and functions of the chief of general staff as stipulated under its 2009 white paper act, outlining the role and responsibilities of the army commander.
“This is just a normal way of command. The chief of general staff, as provided for under the white paper act, has clear roles and responsibilities as he is the one who oversees military activities,” General Garang Mabil told Sudan Tribune on Friday, without providing further comment on the development.
However, Mabil, a close ally of president Salva Kiir, said the government has a constitutional responsibility to equip and maintain the army.
“Whether [there] are resources or not, the government has a constitutional responsibility to ensure that the army is fully equipped and maintained to exercise its mandate. This is not a question of whether there are adequate resources or not. It is something which the government and the people of South Sudan need to understand and make it a national priority,” he said.
Renewed fighting between the South Sudanese army (SPLA) and rebel forces erupted in Nasir last weekend, with both sides since claiming to be in control of the strategic town, located south-east of Malakal.
The latest outbreak of violence has been condemned by world leaders, including UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, who called on pro-Machar rebels to immediately cease all offensive operations in Nasir and other areas, while also urging the South Sudanese government to resist launching any counter-offensive.
On Tuesday, Awan himself cautioned against launching a counter offensive on rebel positions, but qualified his comments by saying any such move should not be interpreted as a sign of government weakness.
The South Sudanese government and pro-Machar rebels have been engaged in an armed conflict since mid-December last year after a political split emerged in the ruling SPLM.
The January ceasefire deal, recommitted to by both sides in May, has so far failed to halt the violence on the ground, with both sides trading accusations of violating the terms of the agreement.