President Salva Kiir’s private farm at Luri, Central Equatoria state is being used as a covert military base, housing expensive hardware including attack helicopters, sources told Radio Tamazuj.
An eyewitness told Radio Tamazuj that he saw four attack helicopters parked at a paved airstrip at the Luri site one day in mid-February, while SPLA sources say the site is also used for training soldiers recruited on an ethnic basis from the home areas of Kiir and General Paul Malong.
A UN source also confirmed that the site owned by Kiir, located about 20 km from Juba, has been converted to house attack helicopters, and multiple choppers have been seen stationed there.
“[We] have identified a location in Luri where there has been significant construction since January, including the building of a helicopter landing area that can accommodate at least 8 helicopters, and where at least 2 MI24s have been seen in recent weeks,” the UN source said on Wednesday.
SPLA sources explained that Luri is in fact not a farm, but a complete military headquarters used for operations outside the normal command structure.
The sources said Luri is presided over by General Bol Akot, who leads the special “commando” forces, a group of predominately Dinka soldiers who have been implicated in fighting and violence against civilians in Wonduruba in Central Equatoria state and in various parts of Western Equatoria.
A first group of recruits, predominantly Dinka from Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal, was trained at Luri in 2014, the second group was trained in 2015 and a third is still in process. Additionally, some of the Tiger Battalion stationed in Juba have been relocated to Luri.
In addition to the attack helicopters, Kiir’s private farm at Luri has housed conventional tanks, amphibious armored vehicles, and surface to air missiles, the SPLA sources said.
IHS Jane’s, a respected defense research journal, also reported that S-125 surface-to-air rockets were operationally deployed near Juba in January. Citing satellite imagery from June 2015, IHS said 16 missile launchers and a surveillance radar system were parked at a military camp 20 km southwest of Juba, though the journal did not name the camp as Luri farm.
In fact, Luri is not located south of Juba but rather north of Juba. IHS may have been seeing weapons at another military site along the Juba-Yei road, where there is a battalion under the command of Colonel Akok Akok, some 15 miles away from Juba. This suggests the possibility that the missiles are deployed at more than one site.
The use of Kiir’s own property to house military equipment and train troops indicates that the president may be using public military assets for private purposes. South Sudan’s government spent more than forty million dollars of oil revenue on the helicopters, according to a UN Panel of Experts report released earlier this year, in addition to money spent on tanks, amphibious vehicles, and rockets.
The housing of helicopters at Kiir’s own farm further suggests the president has direct command responsibility over their deployment. Kiir was also reported to have had direct command responsibility over the ‘Mathiang Anyoor‘, an irregular Dinka militia, which were trained at Luri farm, according to the African Union Commission of Inquiry.
South Sudan’s armed opposition and some civilians have accused the government of using the helicopters to bombard villages in Western Equatoria and Upper Nile states. The SPLA prevented independent ceasefire monitors from investigating such claims in Western Equatoria in December.