April 7, 2016 (JUBA) – South Sudanese army (SPLA) has downplayed severity of anger of its deputy chief of general staff for logistics, General Thomas Cirilo Swaka, over land grabbing in Juba and warned media outlets against publishing stories about the matter.
Local media outlets in the national capital published a story last week, alleging that General Swaka has declared to fight against land grabbers in defence of lands of his Bari community in Juba and its surrounding areas.
This followed an incident of land grabbing last month in his home village located southwest of Juba, where new settlers identified to be members of the South Sudan’s largest ethnic group, the Dinka, particularly from Bor and Apadang sections attempted to illegally occupy it.
However, a press statement issued on Thursday by the SPLA spokesperson, Brigadier Lul Ruai Koang, denied the depicted situation, saying General Swaka has not declared to fight for his community.
“SPLA GHQs [General Headquarters] has noted with great concern malicious rumors that had been circulating on social and print media outlets against Lt. Gen. Thomas Cirilo Swaka, Deputy Chief of General Staff for Logistics. The Down Daily Newspaper on Tuesday 29 March 2016 Vol.1 Issue 046 published a story on its front page” I will fight along Bari community against land grabbers.” This attention capturing headline was said to have been uttered by Gen. Thomas Cirilo,” the statement partly reads.
“On the same note, SPLA warns some reckless media agencies that legal action will be taken against institutions found defaming our officers in particular and the army in general,” said the SPLA spokesperson.
He said the army was compelled by severity of “these potentially damaging allegations against this high ranking officer”, and therefore the SPLA high command through the office of the Spokesperson has concluded that a press conference was necessary in order to “clear the air and put some records straight.”
It was not clear why it took the SPLA high command up to 9 days to respond to the allegations published since 29 March, 2016.
In the statement the army’s spokesman pointed out that, as a professional military officer, General Thomas Cirilo does not receive directives from his community to confront land grabbers who had threatened indigenous people in the area.
Brig. Koang said General Swaka did not threaten to leave the army for Rajaf in order to fight land grabbers, but admitted that the General does visit the village where the land grabbing was taking place.
“I hereby confirm that he stays at his official residence in Juba not in Rajaf where he is reported to be monitoring the situation. However, it’s good to underscore that the Gen. does go to his village especially over the weekends,” he said.
Brig. Koang who conducted a press conference on Thursday in Juba said the army’s General Headquarters “condemns in the strongest terms possible deliberate acts aimed at defaming and tarnishing images” of officers from the army.
Last month, reports indicated that General Swaka was angered by an attempt to grab lands in his home village, prompting the army to chase away land grabbers from the village.