By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
December 9, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudanese government has been accused of launching air attacks on cantonment area of the opposition forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA-IO) in the oil-rich Upper Nile state.
“The regime has again on Wednesday unleashed its helicopter gunships and attacked our cantonment area in Kaka. This is in violation of the ceasefire,” said James Gatdet Dak, spokesman of the opposition leader, Riek Machar, in a statement on Wednesday.
He accused elements in president Salva Kiir’s government of working hard to derail the implementation of the peace agreement signed in August and particularly the security arrangements and against the expected return of the SPLM-IO’s advance team to Juba.
Dak said the government has been targeting their designated cantonment areas by air, attracted by concentration of the opposition forces in the assembly points.
SPLA-IO’s military spokesman, Colonel William Gatjiath Deng, said in a separate statement that infantry forces from the government army on Wednesday at around 8:15am also crossed the buffer zone of disengagement of the rival forces from Lelo and attacked their positions at Owech in Upper Nile state.
“SPLA/IO’s mighty army repulsed the attackers and fights them back to Lelo at 10:00 am” Deng said in a press release he extended to Sudan Tribune.
He added the latest attacks have caused the situation to remain tense around cantonment areas in northern part of Upper Nile state between the rival forces.
The opposition official alleged that the government’s forces had carried out air raids at rebel held position in western towns of Equatoria.
Deng further said that the report broadcasted on the state owned SSTV by SPLA spokesperson, Colonel Philip Aguer, about 13 prisoners of war captured from SPLA-IO was unfounded.
“The released 13 members is neither associated with SPLA/IO nor sharing the same characteristics with us” he said adding “We fail even to identify them individually from our Headquarters in Pagak.”
“To prove this, and in accordance with the army war principles, the chief of general staff, Lt Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual is calling for immediate airlifting of the 13 Members to Pagak by the International Red Cross Committee.”
He urged Juba to send the people to their headquarters for confirmation otherwise he said “they would be treated like collected criminals jailed in Juba but not SPLA-IO soldiers”
The military official further accused the regime in Juba of continuing aggression at the SPLM-IO defensive positions around Western Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, Western Bharel Gazal and Upper Nile.
He warned that such attacks will derail the implementation of the peace agreement between the two warring parties.
Dak also called on the IGAD and its international partners to exert pressure on the government to stop the military attacks, warning that the SPLA-IO had the right to exercise self-defence.
Earlier this month, government reportedly air raided opposition’s cantonment area in Mundri county of Western Equatoria state, killing two of their Brigadier Generals and many more soldiers when two helicopter gunships launched surprise attack on the assembly area.
The latest air raid on Wednesday came two days before the first group of 262 members of the opposition’s advance team is expected to arrive in Juba on Friday.
The government is however against the return of the large number, saying they would accept only 30 members.