The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) Chairman Riek Machar has been meeting secretly with other SPLM-IO leaders in the capital Khartoum under instructions from the Sudanese government not to publicly discuss the ongoing internal consultations.
SPLM/A-IO rebels fought the South Sudanese army in the capital Juba last July, ending a fragile period of three months when both sides had been peacefully cantoned in the capital together. Clashes have since taken place in other frontline areas as well without yet returning to full-scale confrontations.
Some government officials, however, have hinted at plans for an upcoming dry season offensive even as the SPLM-IO rebels seek external support for fresh arms and ammunition.
Machar has been quiet since his arrival in Khartoum, leading to speculations that his health is poor or that Khartoum is restricting his political activities. But a senior SPLM-IO official confirmed to Radio Tamazuj on Monday that the SPLM-IO Political Bureau is kicking off meetings in Khartoum today and tomorrow, saying that the Sudanese government placed restrictions on media coverage.
Two Sudanese journalists from Al-Ahram Al-Youm newspaper were briefly arrested by security agents for publishing reporting on the meetings, according to multiple sources in Khartoum, who identified the journalists as Tariq Abdallah and Murtada Ahmed.
According to the SPLM-IO source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Sudanese authorities have told Machar that he may engage in political activities but not openly.
Separately, the Arabic news service of the Turkish Anadolu news agency confirmed the meetings saying that about 20 members of the SPLM-IO Political Bureau coming from Khartoum, Kenya and Ethiopia are taking part in the meeting. SPLM-IO official Sebit Magok confirmed the meeting but declined to provide details, according to the report by the international news agency.
SPLM-IO defector: violence is only recourse
The Khartoum meetings come shortly after separate meetings in Nairobi that culminated in a press conference on the defection of the Deputy Governor of Yei River State to SPLM-IO. He has vowed to turn to violence in order to overthrow the South Sudanese government.
Abraham Wani Yuone Bondo, the deputy governor of Yei State, announced in a statement dated 15 September that he left the government because of human rights abuses including “rampant arrest, torture of innocent civilians, killing and raping of women, children, etc.”
“Since those in power only understand the language of killing, therefore let’s join our hands together to change the regime,” said Wani in a statement.
This position represents a return to the earlier SPLM-IO position taken in the period of 2014-2015 prior to the IGAD peace talks when they were demanding the removal of President Salva Kiir. In an interview with Radio Tamazuj, Wani further claimed to be mobilizing his loyalists in Yei, Kajokeji, Lainya and Morobo areas. But he also revealed that six of his bodyguards were arrested by government troops in Yei recently.
“In the last five days, the governor wrote a letter and arrested my soldiers, they are being beaten in the morning and evening, they are now in the prison,” he explained.
Wani is the second deputy governor to defect recently to the SPLM-IO after the former deputy of Upper Nile State John Ivo Mounto. Although the two high-level defections represent political successes for the movement, the rebel group faces major challenges in the field.
These challenges include unclear lines of communication to field commanders who have been left in an uncertain situation during the period of Riek Machar’s illness and silence in Khartoum. This situation is being exploited by SPLM-IO defector Taban Deng Gai and the government, which is backing him.
SPLM-IO is still also suffering from losses of territory and men from government offensives last year and the troops lack materiel and ammunition compared to government units. Sympathetic youth groups in the Equatoria region, for example, have been battling the government since even before the July fighting but they lack weapons, military supplies, food and medicines are geographically isolated from the main rebel-held territories in Jonglei and Upper Nile.
Government forces are better equipped but would be better able to exploit the situation further were it not for the severe budget deficit facing the government. An official told Radio Tamazuj recently, for example, that shortage of government funds and supplies has held up the demobilization of armed groups in the Yambio area that are ready to surrender.
The South Sudanese government meanwhile has downplayed tensions with the Sudanese government. Presidential Press Secretary Ateny Wek Ateny in an interview with Radio Tamazuj on Monday responded to threats by the Sudanese government to close its border with South Sudan if Juba does not expel Sudanese rebels from its territories.
He said that Khartoum has not even officially opened its border with South Sudan so they are not afraid of them closing it. The Sudanese government has called on the government of South Sudan to expel Sudanese rebels from its territories.
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