July 13, 2016 (JUBA) – Residence of the South Sudan’s First Vice President, Riek Machar, has been destroyed during the four days of fighting between his forces of SPLA in Opposition (SPLA-IO) and SPLA troops loyal to President Salva Kiir, his official has confirmed.
Machar’s prefab house in a makeshift residential area is located about 5 kilometers away south of the national capital, Juba.
“Yes, it is true. President Salva Kiir’s forces bombed Dr. Riek Machar’s house at Jebel using helicopter gunships. Perhaps they thought he was inside the building. The aim was clearly to harm him,” said Machar’s spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak.
Dak however said Machar was already outside his residence when helicopter gunships attacked his house on Sunday, the day President Kiir’s forces, he said, attacked their base in the morning hours.
He said he “strongly suspected” that President Kiir’s forces started the fighting at the J1 Presidential Palace on Friday with the intention to eventually harm Machar in cross fire and then deny having knowledge about what had happened.
“I do strongly believe and suspect that the fighting at J1 was pre-planned. Although I cannot directly point finger to a specific culprit at this point, I believe that either President Kiir had knowledge about the plan or someone senior on his side planned it,” he said.
Dak further narrated that he suspected that the plan was to attack Machar’s bodyguards outside the palace with the hope that he was going to flee from the palace and then get caught in cross fire outside the palace.
He however said because he did not move out of the palace and his bodyguards were inside with him and were also close to President Kiir, it was impossible for someone inside the palace from President Kiir’s side to start shooting for the safety of the two leaders, adding until when Machar’s forces came to escort him back to his residence in Jebel.
The opposition’s spokesperson added that it was evident that either President Kiir was not in control of his forces or he blessed their actions in denial when his forces again on Sunday attacked Machar’s residence and military base using helicopter gunships and tanks.
He said tt was the second time that Machar’s residence has been targeted by forces loyal to President Kiir.
In December 2013, his house located in the heart of Juba was destroyed when heavy artilleries from tanks were fired at it, but he narrowly escaped.
Dak dismissed blames claimed against him that he posted a message on his Facebook page on Sunday which incited the violence at the presidential palace.
“This is rubbish. Yes, I did post a message, but I did it about 30 minutes after the fighting already erupted at the palace, not before it. I was only reacting to what had happened, and I narrated the suspected intention behind the attack on Machar’s bodyguards. Those accusing me are liars. How did I incite a situation which had already occurred? I suspect that they dislike the fact that I did condemn their evil intention,” he added.
He also dismissed a narration from information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, that the fighting at the palace was started by Machar’s bodyguards. Dak said it didn’t make sense that the small number of Machar’s bodyguards would have started the fight when they knew that their leader was inside the palace and they were outnumbered.
“Imagine a situation where the President invited his deputy to his office and suddenly the President’s bodyguards, backed by a huge force in hundreds that suddenly appeared within the vicinity of the palace, started shooting at the bodyguards of his deputy. Is this not an intention to harm the deputy?” he asked.
He claimed a suspicion that President Kiir’s group was planning for war and to harm Machar, starting with the killing of the SPLA-IO officer, Lt. Col. George Alex Gismala on Saturday a week before, the firing at Machar’s soldiers on Gudele road on Thursday, the attack on his bodyguards at the palace on Friday, and the offensive on his residence and military base on Sunday.
Dak however said there is need to respect the declared ceasefire, review and operationalize the security arrangements in Juba and in other major towns in South Sudan in order to save the peace agreement from collapse