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Leer reportedly calm after troops buildup sparked panic

Author: Moyo Jacob Felix | Published: Thursday, November 23, 2023

Aerial view of Leer town. (Photo: Courtesy).

Leer County Commissioner in Unity State said on Thursday calm has returned to the area following tension sparked by the alleged buildup of government forces and armed groups, as well as SPLA-IO combatants.

Panic gripped the eastern and southern parts of Leer on Wednesday through Thursday as hundreds of people fled their homes after armed groups reportedly amassed in neighboring Mir-Mir Payam of Koch County, according to witness accounts.

The SPLA-IO is said to have deployed troops in key routes upon hearing about Gen Simon Maguek Gai’s alleged plan to attack their military barracks and capture the commercial Adok Port.

When contacted, Commissioner Stephen Taker Riak said he agreed with opposition officers to pull back from the areas where they took positions ahead of the alleged looming attack by troops led by commanders who recently defected to the SSPDF.

“The general situation in Leer is calm, there is no problem, nothing happened,” he told Eye Radio in an interview.

Mr. Riak said the forces loyal to First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar are responsible for the tension, adding he has been assured, they will promptly withdraw.

“It is IO commanders who provoked the situation when there is nothing. They sent forces yesterday to us in Leer.”

“I talked to them as the county commissioner and assured them to just be in their barracks, and not to send forces to us because there is no tension, and they insisted sending the forces.”

“The forces came yesterday (Wednesday), and they were about half a kilometer from the town, when I just talked to them. It is them who provoked the situation.”

“I just spoke to all of them and told them to withdraw their forces from the places where they sent them, and they will withdraw, they told me they will withdraw their forces.”

Responding to the accusations, SPLA-IO Spokesperson Col. Lam Paul Gabriel refuted the claims and said the commissioner’s statement is twisted.

Instead, Col. Lam accused the commissioners of Koch, Leer and Mayendiit counties of mobilizing armed youth to launch an attack on their bases.

“First of all, the statement is twisted, no forces or no soldier from SPLA-IO moved to town. What we are aware of is, there is mobilization from the three Commissioners of Koch, Leer and Mayendit, they are mobilizing the youth,” he told Eye Radio.

“These youth are on their way to Leer, and they will be commanded by the defected General Maguei Gai, they really want to attack our base. We have to inform our leadership here in Juba so that they are able to calm the situation.”

“It’s about responsibility by the high command in Juba – the unified command. They are supposed to be responsible because anything that is happening, there is always a link of Juba.”

The SSPDF headquarters is yet to comment on the matter.

In April 2022, heavily armed militia groups allegedly from Koch and Mayendit counties launched four days of vicious attacks on several villages of Leer, south of the oil-rich state.

According to a report by UNMISS, some 181 people are believed to have been killed, including 23 children in the violence in Leer.

The report also recorded 101 reported incidents of sexual violence, 26 women and children having been abducted and approximately 40,000 people fled their homes.

Early this year, the UN Commission on Human Rights said it has documented widespread attacks against civilians in several states, including southern Unity State where it says government officials led attacks.

President Salva Kiir subsequently formed a fact-finding committee to probe the root cause of the 2022 conflict in Southern Unity.




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