Parties, rebel forces locked in blames game as Upper Nile plunges into chaos

Parties, rebel forces locked in blames game as Upper Nile plunges into chaos
The chairman of SPLM/A-IO Kit Gwang faction, Simon Gatwech Dual and the deputy chairman of Kit Gwang faction and commander of Agwelek forces, Johnson Olony Thubo. [Photo: Courtesy]

Unnecessary battle that rendered Upper Nile State ungovernable for the better part of last year is creeping back after relative peace, since the signing of the Khartoum Peace Agreement in January 2022. 

According to data from the office of the United Nations for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), over 27,000 people have already been displaced in Tonga, Panyikang County, due to the renewed armed conflict between rebel forces.

So complicated is the resurging conflict that each camp is unwilling to take responsibility for the attacks.

The Kit-Gwang forces allied to Simon Gatwech and Agwelek forces that pleads allegiance to his deputy, in the splinter faction, have been locked in direct confrontation and media propaganda. 

Mustafa Gai Lual, the Panyikang County Commissioner told City Review that said residents were displaced to Uochi, Bakang, and Dulib Payams after forces intensified fire exchanges.  

“The conflict and the fiery confrontations between the Kit-Gwang faction began on the 10th of last month, and the citizens have displaced from Tonga the headquarter county, on the 9th of this month until now,’’ he said. 

Lual said the fighting has been continuous in the oil-rich Upper Nile State, adding that displaced families lost properties including livestock. They are now living in squalor conditions, added the commissioner. 

Lual appealed to the feuding parties of the Kit-Gwang faction to sit down as brothers and dialogue between them to reach an agreement. 

He persuaded, “Please sit down and look for the reasons that led to the fighting between you.” 

 “I would like to tell you that the timing in which you started the conflict caused great and very painful damage to the people of the area,” he said. 

He called on the government and non-governmental organisations to provide shelter, food, and medicine to those affected by the conflict in the Upper Nile state. 

 Blames games 

The fighting has been characterised by finger-pointing involving the SSPDF, Kit-Gwang, Agwelek, and NDM forces. 

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) blamed the Kit-gwang faction under the leadership of Johnson Olony for attacking their bases in Panyikang County in Upper Nile State. 

The SPLA-IO Spokesperson, Col Lam Paul Gabriel, accused the SSPDF of having a hand in the attacks by the Agwelek forces. 

“This evening, August 18, 2022, at about 7: 00 pm the Kit-gwang elements under the command of Gen Johnson Olony attacked the SPLA-IO positions of Diel in Upper Nile State,” Lam said.  

“The SPLM IO is aware that Kitgwang elements were facilitated and given departure order by security organs to move from Magenis to Malakal,” he claimed, adding that they were escorted by speed boat of the SPLM-IG (SSPDF) forces from Malakal to Atar. 

He claimed that the act was not only a violation of the peace agreement but a move that jeopardises the current spirit of the peace agreement. 

He called on peace monitors (CTSAMVM and JDB) to investigate the violation. 

But in a statement dated August 19, signed by Paul Achot Achobek, the head of the Agwelek delegation in Juba, the group claimed that they were attacked by Gatwech’s group while on their way to Tonga in Upper Nile State.  

“Last evening on 18th August 2022 at around 6:15 pm our barge travelling from Atar to Tonga came under heavy fire in the town of Diel Panyikany county Upper Nile state by elements belonging to Gen Simon Gatwech and his new anti-peace alias,” Achot said. 

The group also accused Gatwech of turning his back on the Khartoum Agreement signed earlier this year with the SPLM-IG. 

In the press statement, Achobek blamed an unnamed peace partner for teaming up with Gatwech to wreck the two agreements—the one signed in Khartoum and the 2018 revitalised peace agreement. 

 This triggered the National Democratic Movement (NDM) to distance itself from what they termed as the “SPLM-IO infighting” taking place in Upper Nile State.

A press statement dated August 20, signed by the Spokesperson of NDM, Mahmoud Akot, the party stated that it had no soldiers roaming around the country, adding that ‘‘all are in cantonment sites are stated in the agreement.’’

“…at the moment, NDM forces are in cantonment and training sites in Alel and Tawfigiya in Upper Nile state, Dingding and Bong in Unity state among other areas,” Akot said.  

The South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) absolved itself of any blame noting that it is committed to peace implementation in the country.  

Signing of deal

In January 2022, the government signed Khartoum Peace Agreement with SPLM IO breakaway faction led by Gen Gatwech.  

The deal offered amnesty to the leadership and forces of SPLM-IO Kit-Gwang that has been fighting the SPLA-IO forces led by the First Vice President, Dr Riek Machar. 

According to the agreement, the parties agreed to integrate the Agwelek forces into SSPDF subject to their remaining independent, respecting the ceasefire agreement and government effecting the amnesty within one week.