Rebels lay down arms, offer to join South Sudan army

A South Sudan rebel group led by renegade general Peter Gadet has agreed to an unconditional ceasefire and is committed to talks on merging its troops with the army, its spokesperson said on Wednesday.

“We are declaring a ceasefire and we are also accepting the amnesty offered by the president as the basis of talks with the government of South Sudan,” Bol Gatkouth said on behalf of the heavily armed militia group.

As their nation was born, thousands of South Sudanese danced in the streets, waving their new flag and celebrating the beginning of a new era.

“The decision came after pressure from our international friends, and the call of the South Sudanese people that the government is serious about reconciliation,” Gatkouth added, speaking by phone from Juba.

He said the rebel group, which is based in South Sudan’s oil-producing Unity state, numbers “roughly 10 000 men”, and that the delegation that he was heading had just arrived from Nairobi, where it met South Sudanese officials.

The fledgling country declared independence from the north on July 9, but it faces a host of daunting challenges, among the greatest of which is the threat posed by the many militias within its borders.

Gadet, alongside George Athor, another former general turned militia commander whose forces are active in Jonglei state, is considered the most powerful rebel leader in the south.

In his inaugural speech as president of the world’s newest nation, Salva Kiir renewed his offer, first made at an all-party political conference last year, of an amnesty for all southern rebel groups that laid down their arms.

Gatkouth has criticised the amnesty, as recently as last month, and said the rebels were fighting the Juba government because of rampant corruption in the impoverished country and because of autocratic behaviour by the army.

Hundreds of people have been killed in clashes between the army and different rebel groups in states across South Sudan this year.

In April, Gadet’s forces clashed with the SPLA, the southern army, leaving more than 100 people dead and forcing oil workers out of Unity state, causing production to drop.

On Wednesday, army spokesperson Philip Aguer welcomed the ceasefire.

“Definitely it is good news for the SPLA and for the people of South Sudan,” he said.

Gatkouth said it was now the rebel group’s intention to integrate its troops into the SPLA, a subject that would figure prominently in the talks with the government, but he stressed that the move had not yet been agreed on.

He also denied that his group had been bought off.

“This is an unconditional ceasefire and a goodwill gesture, and it comes in response to the amnesty the president declared, and his seriousness in looking to talk to us in Nairobi and elsewhere.”

The most important issues to be discussed with the government, Gatkouth said, would be the rebels’ key grievances, including the “administration and mismanagement of the country.” — AFP

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