My response to allegations of massacres in Bentiu

By James Gatdet Dak

April 25, 2014 (SSNA) — The genocidal regime in Juba under Salva Kiir has once again attempted to set up our movement – the SPLM/SPLA armed resistance – by doing in Bentiu, Unity state capital, what they did many times in other areas we captured from them. This is by targeting and murdering innocent civilians from other ethnicities as they withdrew and then rushing to blame it on our forces. This is their war culture which they have unleashed in this armed conflict.

We have learnt that even before we could capture Bentiu town on Tuesday morning, 15 April, government forces began to murder members of certain communities inside the town. They also collected their dead bodies during the night and piled them in certain “sensitive” places. This was suspiciously an attempt to make it look like organized executions by the incoming opposition forces.

We also learnt that majority members of Sudanese rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) fighting for Salva Kiir’s government wore civilian clothes during the two-day clashes in and around Bentiu. The bodies of their dead colleagues, almost all men, were also collected and piled up during the night for the purpose of claiming them to be foreign civilians rounded up and executed in such places by our gallant forces. We condemn this barbaric conspiracy in the strongest terms!

The accusation for alleged killings of civilians by our forces in Bentiu is clearly an attempt by the government in Juba to instead tarnish our image and at the same time cover up for the heinous crimes they and their foreign allies committed against civilians inside Bentiu town on the night they withdrew. They also wanted to cover up and divert the public and international community’s attention from the recent barbaric massacre of hundreds of innocent women and children from the Nuer ethnic group in Bor town, capital of Jonglei state. These cover ups are the cause for this unfounded allegation against our forces.

We have also learnt that leaders of the Sudanese rebel groups of Darfur allied to the Juba regime have launched a similar allegation of conspiracy to the United Nations Security Council, echoing the government’s claims. The Darfurians were also mobilized in Juba by the government on Wednesday, 23 April, to stage a protest to UNMISS to further the allegation.

It is unfortunate that officials from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) picked this one-sided story or fabrication from the government and its foreign allies without ‘independently’ verifying and investigating what had actually happened in Bentiu.

Our forces have not carried out targeted killings of civilians in Bentiu. Those killed in action with the knowledge of our forces were mostly active combatants as they were fighting alongside the government’s troops. Maybe others were killed in crossfire by either side in the conflict. Some of the Sudanese nationals who got killed while in their military uniforms were members of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) who forgot about their cause in Sudan and allowed themselves to be used as mercenaries to fight for Salva Kiir.

There were no searches conducted in the town with the intention to target civilians. There still armed elements of the government and JEM rebels who did not leave the town nor wanted to surrender to our forces in control. These were the elements who continued to sporadically fire at our forces in the town.

There were no official hate messages aired on Bentiu radio FM. Our generals in charge were asking the residents to remain calm and in harmony in the town and beyond. Radio talk shows continued as usual with commentators calling from their residents, some echoing calm while others expressed anger. Some expressed anger at the government and its allies, but were immediately advised against such bitter words by the talk show moderators. If any participant or contributor uttered what constituted a hate message, that shouldn’t have been described as an official hate message coming from our movement. Even the UN-run Miraya FM radio in Juba experiences unofficial hate messages coming from its uncontrollable commentators country-wide.

In what seems to be an appeasement of the government which has had sour relationship with UNMISS this year, coupled with the recent failure to protect hundreds of civilians butchered in the presence of the peacekeepers in Bor, UNMISS officials had to simply succumb to the interests of the government and its allies. This is unfortunate development and raises a grave concern if the government can succeed in bullying and blackmailing UNMISS.

UNMISS seems to have felt guilty for the Bor incident in which hundreds of Nuer civilians were brutally massacred in their presence, unable to protect them. They also seem to agree to the conspiracy of downplaying the number of civilians massacred in Bor. Many different reliable sources in Bor who participated in the counting and mass grave burial of the dead and wounded civilians confirmed that 148 people, mainly women and children were butchered while 274 others wounded inside that UNMISS compound. Many others were still missing and unaccounted for. But UNMISS continued to echo the small number of less than 60 people, which the government wanted the South Sudanese public and the world to know. This is very unfortunate!

UNMISS also fell short of condemning the government, hence buying the cheap ploy that it was a group of civilian Dinka Bor youth that carried out the attack in Bor. Evidences from eyewitnesses and survivors clearly pointed fingers to members of the army and the police, many of whom the victims knew personally in town. These members of the organized forces in disguise carried out the attack with the backing of some government officials in Juba. Unfortunately, UNMISS decided to simply buy the story coming from Juba.

Our forces are civilian-friendly. They have strict orders and rules of engagement. We do not target civilians for whom we resist the dictatorial and genocidal regime in Juba. We will not therefore allow the regime to try to tarnish our image falsely.

It is our appeal to UNMISS to stand its ground and not succumb to the bullying and blackmailing by Salva Kiir’s regime. The world body needs to independently verify and investigate such incidents with impartiality, whether in Juba, Bor, Wau, Malakal or Bentiu. On our part, we will cooperate with UNMISS or any other relevant body to independently verify and investigate the incidents.

James Gatdet Dak is the Spokesperson for the Chairperson and Commander-in-Chief of SPLM/SPLA-in opposition, Dr. Riek Machar Teny.

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