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Source: Radio Tamazuj

The chief of staff of South Sudan’s national army (SPLA) says the government launched major offensives in May just prior to signing a peace accord in Addis Ababa, revealing that these were ‘calculated’ to capture more territory before committing to peace terms.

In May, South Sudan’s government came under pressure from Ethiopia, the United States and other countries to end the war, culminating in a coordinated effort by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.

Kerry flew to Juba on 2 May where he pressured President Salva Kiir “to do everything in his power to end the violence.” An agreement to end the conflict was signed at a summit in Addis Ababa the following week.

But in the six days between Kerry’s meeting with Kiir and the signing of the accord in Addis Ababa late on 9 May, the South Sudanese army attacked Ulang, Nasser, Bentiu and other areas.

The army’s chief of staff inadvertently disclosed during a press conference in Juba yesterday that these attacks were deliberately ‘calculated’ to gain ground prior to the signing of the 9 May deal, which recommitted the government to an earlier cessation of hostilities agreement.

At the time, the proposed summit in Addis Ababa between Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar was delayed by several days for unclear reasons.

Gen. Paul Malong explained yesterday, “We were advancing of course in four fronts. We were advancing from Gadiang toward Ayod – toward Poktap toward Ayod – which we, we did it, up to Ayod, and we were also advancing from Malakal, Baliet, Ulang, to Nasser – and we have also managed to reach Nasser in time that calculated.”

He continued: “We were also advancing on the other side from Guel Guk to Mangok, Mangok to Mathiang, and we were to go to Maiwut and Pagak, but on the way we have got instructions from Commander-in-Chief that they have signed cessation of hostilities in Addis Ababa, and immediately we put our operation off where we were on.” 

Malong’s remarks confirm that the South Sudanese army purposefully accelerated offensive operations in the Upper Nile region in the days immediately following the meeting on 2 May between John Kerry and Salva Kiir.

The attacks on Nasser and surrounding areas pushed more than 20,000 refugees across the border into western Ethiopia in May, overwhelming aid agencies.

Nasser was recaptured by rebels on Sunday, 20 July, a move condemned by the United States as ‘unacceptable.’

‘Very clear intention’

The US Secretary of State said in remarks just after meeting President Kiir on 2 May that the latter “committed very clearly his intention … to take forceful steps in order to begin to move to end the violence and implement the cessation of hostilities agreement.”

Kerry also referred to the South Sudanese president as “very open, and very thoughtful,” noting he had committed to meet his rival Riek Machar in Addis Ababa early the next week – though in fact the meeting was not to take place until late week, on Friday, after the capture of Ulang, Nasser and Bentiu.

The US leader revealed also that he was coordinating with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, who strongly pressured the South Sudanese president and his rival Riek Machar in face-to-face talks the following week, resulting in a signing ceremony late that night.

A number of attacks carried out just before the 9 May agreement are noted in the timeline below.

Timeline of key events in May:

2 May – US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Salva Kiir meet in Juba

3 May – SPLA troops capture Ulang

4 May – SPLA troops capture Nasser

4 May – SPLA and allied JEM troops advance into Bentiu

5 May – SPLA-IO counter-attack, recapturing Bentiu

5 May – US government ‘condemns’ SPLA attacks on Bentiu, Nasser and elsewhere

6 May – UN says 11,000 people fled from Upper Nile within 72 hours

6 May – US government announces sanctions on top SPLA general and top SPLA-IO general

8 May – SPLA and JEM attack Bentiu again; SPLA-IO withdraws

9 May – Salva Kiir and Riek Machar sign the ‘Agreement to End the Crisis in South Sudan

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