South Sudan Official Says Fighting was Triggered by Facebook Post from Riek Machar’s Press Secretary

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South Sudan ambassador to Kenya Chol Ajongo has told the media in Nairobi that the fighting in Juba on Friday was triggered by a Facebook post by the Press Secretary of Vice President Riek Machar.

Ajong said that James Gatdet informed the army that Machar had been detained at the President’s palace, a message that was immediately acted upon with violence sending cold chills across the Capital of Juba.

Riek Machar's Press Secretary James James Gatdet

Riek Machar’s Press Secretary James Gatdet

“On 8th July, 2016, the SPLA-IO forces Spokesman James Gatdet, created and spread rumors that their leader Dr Riek Machar Teny was under arrest.”

According to Ajongo, Machar was on the contrary attending a security briefing meeting with President Salva Kiir, Vice President James Wani and other senior government officials at the J1, which is the presidential palace.

The meeting was being held in response to the killing of five of President Kiir’s soldiers on Thursday allegedly by Sudan People Liberation Army In Opposition (SPLA-IO).

“SPLA-IO forces proceeded to attack the government forces at J1 at 4.15 and killed many innocent soldiers.”

According to Ajongo, earlier on Friday, one of Machar’s soldiers had forced his way into the palace and after being denied access he shot at a security officer, an attack that could have provoked Machar’s spokesman to allege that he had been detained.

“One of the officers came into the palace and wanted to force his way through to where the meeting was taking place and as a result of that he was denied access to the building. He then shot the officer and the fighting broke out,” he explained.

However, the Friday violence seemed to have been a culmination of tension that began few months ago with incidences of violence which Ajongo blamed on the SPLA-IO.

“Outside Juba, over the past few months, the SPLA-IO forces and allied armed groups have been creating insecurity in several parts of South Sudan.”

He said the SPLA-IO were; “roaming the streets at night while heavily armed, without clear purpose and refusing to stop at check-points, shooting at vehicles including a vehicle of the United States of America Embassy in Juba.”

Ajongo said Juba Airport has been secured and is safe for business following suspension of flights by the regions leading airlines.

He said the “situation is now calm in Juba”, and those who were behind the violence had been “dislodged from the city and are being dissuaded from harming innocent civilians in residential areas.”

With Files From Capital FM Kenya