Addis Ababa Despatch International

South Sudan’s many rebellions

Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo spent the last year mostly sitting in his office, drinking tea and reading newspapers. Officers would come to greet South Sudan’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, appointed by President Salva Kiir to oversee military supplies. He’d leave at 2 p.m. He wasn’t involved even in paperworks. “They put us in the dark completely,” he said.

In February, Mr. Cirillo, the highest-ranking Equatorian in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), resigned, accusing the force of orchestrating a “tribally engineered war”. He also slammed President Kiir for “planned violations” of the 2015 peace deal signed with his former deputy, Riek Machar, that stalled an already two-year-long civil war.

President Kiir is accused of turning the country’s army into a tribal militia, mostly recruiting from his Dinka tribe, and of “ethnic cleansing” of other tribes. Mr. Machar, who hails from the Nuer tribe, heads the rebel group SPLA-in-Opposition, and is now under house arrest in South Africa. Mr. Cirillo has set up a new rebel movement of about 30,000 fighters. He wants to overthrow the President.

“People were asking me, ‘Thomas, you were part of the system’,” he said in an interview in Addis Ababa. He said his duties were usurped by Paul Malong, Mr. Kiir’s chief of staff and a fellow Dinka. Command meetings “stopped” and were replaced by sessions between Mr. Malong and other close aides of the President. Intelligence and armoured and artillery units became “controlled on a tribal basis”.Mr. Malong used his powers to “build and consolidate the military strength of ‘SPLA militia’ for implementing the ‘Dinka Agenda”, Mr. Cirillo wrote in his resignation letter. Mr. Kiir this week replaced Mr. Malong with the deputy for administration, without giving reasons.

Presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny describes Mr. Cirillo’s account as “fabricated”. But not everyone is convinced. “Time and again, Mr. Kiir and Mr. Malong have done nothing to stop acts they know to be contrary to international law,” said Payton Knopf, the former coordinator of the UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan. “This includes arming militia out of state funds outside the purview of the SPLA.”

On the President’s orders

Mr. Cirillo said the President has never been serious about peace even when he signed the 2015 agreement that allowed Mr. Machar, who had been in exile since the civil war broke out in 2013, to return to Juba and resume the office of the Vice-President. Five days after the pact was reached, President Kiir assembled Mr. Malong, Mr. Cirillo and other top generals in the palace to tell them not to demilitarise Juba, violating the deal. He ordered the generals to secretly stockpile arms in the capital and disguise some military units as police units. By the time Mr. Machar returned to Juba in 2016, the SPLA force had “tripled”.

Besides, the army had even planned “to assassinate” Mr. Machar. His deputy chief of staff for administration Lieutenant General James Koang Chuol said the attempt took place in the palace. Mr. Machar fled the country again when fighting resumed. Throughout the war, Mr. Cirillo said, the government consistently avoided deploying soldiers from non-Dinka tribes, and armed Dinka civilians. Many civilians from Mr. Machar’s Nuer tribe were massacred. An African Union Commission of Inquiry, in 2014, noted that a number of reports had concluded that some of the rights violations in South Sudan could amount to crimes against humanity. Mr. Cirillo would agree. He describes a series of recent SPLA operations as “ethnic cleansing”.


(Nizar Manek is a journalist based in Addis Ababa covering Africa )

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 2:58:34 AM |

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