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Maiwut state speaker welcomes defection of top rebel commander

South Sudan's opposition leader Riek Machar speaks during a briefing in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa April 9, 2016 (Photo Reuters/ Tiksa Negeri)

September 26, 2019 (JUBA) - The speaker of South Sudan’s Maiwut state assembly has welcomed a top rebel commander’s decision to defect from the armed opposition faction (SPLM/A-IO), saying it would cease hostilities in an area which has been a hot spot of the conflict despite the permanent ceasefire between rival forces.

Major Gen. James Ochan Puot, one of the SPLM/A-IO’s top commanders, defected from the armed opposition group led by Riek Machar and joined President Salva Kiir.

Puot was the deputy commander of the SPLA-IO’s in charge of its 5th division.

In a statement issued on Thursday, lawmaker Choul D. Kir, who hails from the constituency of the defected armed opposition commander, also lauded government for welcoming Puot, saying it was time for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

“On behalf of Maiwut community in Government and on my own behalf with capacity as Speaker of the House, I would like to congratulate General James Ochan and Gajaak supported the Provisional Military and Political Council (PMPC) for the wise decision they have made. The declaration will cease hostility and bring lasting peace in Gajaak areas”, Kir said.

South Sudan’s Information minister, Michael Makuei said government welcomes the defected rebel official but did not mention the circumstances under which the armed opposition commander made the decision to abandon the SPLM/A-IO forces.

It remains unclear what would be done to troops that defected alongside Puot.

Puot, one of the SPLM/A-IO’s top commanders, announced on Sunday that he had defected from the armed opposition group led by Riek Machar and joined Kiir.

The defected general, who was the deputy commander of the SPLA-IO’s division 5, said he defected from the armed opposition group after “deliberate attacks, killings and displacement of Cie-waw community in Adar State where thousands of civilians were displaced from their homes by SPLA-IO forces since July 31, 2019.”

But the SPLM/A-IO, in a statement, said Puot’s decision to quit at a time of implementing the revitalized peace deal is a “counter-insurgency tactic of the security”.

South Sudan descended into war in December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup.

In September 2018, the rival factions involved in the conflict signed a peace deal to end the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced over 2 million people in the country.