Military operating in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria state under South Sudan Federal Democratic and military wing of South Sudan armed force said Thursday that more than 125 government soldiers under the command of 1st Lieutenant Ruot Bhar and two other officers have defected and joined their forces.
A spoksperson for the group, Col. Mario Bertino, said they expect more army defection since people are fed with the system which has “coldly and outrageously taken hostage by a bloody dictatorship embodied by an irresponsible president and a politically futureless system”.
“We have received new comrades. More than 125 new comrades have decided to leave behind their families in order to join the struggle for freedom, justice and equality for all regardless of tribe, region or religion. They defected from Torit and other military outposts. We are all struggling to redeem the image of South Sudan from this bloody criminals and dictatorial system under Salva Kiir and his Jieng Council of elders who are holding the country hostage”, said Bertino.
Sudan Tribune was unable to independently verify the veracity of the claim, though several local officials confirmed that defection in the army took place because some junior officers view it as a way to get promotion into high ranking military positions.
If confirmed, however, the move will further stoke worries that the violence could turn into a full-blown conflict and raise alarm about unity in the army, which split in 2013.
Early this month, a group of armed men, identified as South Sudan Armed Forces (SSAF), claimed to have seized a key military base in Eastern Equatoria state.
The capture of the base came days after the SSAF claimed to have earlier seized another police post at Idolu, some 35km from the state capital, Torit.
The group, in an earlier interview with Sudan Tribune, confirmed responsibility for the attack seen as a new setback for embattled troops loyal to president Salva Kiir. The attack on the military base took place in Longiro, a remote, but strategic village, with the group capturing government soldiers and local youth before disarming and freeing some of them.
ARMY SPEAKS OUT
Colonel Philip Aguer, spokesperson of the government described the group as “bandits” involved in “thuggery activities” along the country’s major roads.
Aguer also pointed out that government’s forces were still gathering information about the size of the group and their motives.
Residents and local officials believe the group is based in Komosi area where they clashed with the pro-government troops coming out from Ikotos on Sunday, resulting in the death of at least three government soldiers and the capture of several rifles and ammunition.
The incident was the latest development on the government-run facilities in what appears to be an attempt by the armed group to assert their presence in the area, draw attention of the local population and put pressure on the state government.