Former Rebel Chief Joins National Salvation Front in South Sudan

The chairman of the South Sudan Democratic Movement, also known as the Cobra Faction, has joined the newly formed National Salvation Front headed by General Thomas Cirillo Swaka.

General Khalid Butrus Bora told VOA in an exclusive interview in Arabic from an undisclosed location that he was putting weight behind Swaka to fight the government of President Salva Kiir.

“We in the Cobra Faction have seen that the only movement which can unite South Sudanese people at the moment is the Salvation Front movement under the leadership of General Thomas Cirillo,” he said.

The former leader of the South Sudan Democratic Movement, David Yau Yau, signed a peace accord with Kiir in 2014 in Addis Ababa. Yau Yau was appointed the administrator of the Greater Pibor area in Jonglei state. Kiir later eliminated Yau Yau’s position after unilaterally partitioning South Sudan into 28 states in 2015. Yau Yau was later appointed as a deputy defense minister in the Transitional Government of National Unity formed after the signing of the 2015 peace deal with SPLM in Opposition leader Riek Machar.

Fighting in Murle territory

Butrus said the South Sudan Democratic Movement under his leadership would operate under the National Salvation Front to fight the Kiir administration. He said Kiir was arming communities in Jonglei state to fight each other.

“As I am speaking to you, there is a fighting going on in Murle territory in Boma. Civilians from Dinka in Bor have been given heavy weapons, and they are attacking Murle area through three positions in several villages,” he said.

Butrus, who is from the Murle community, resigned from the South Sudan army in September 2016, citing the lack of implementation of a deal signed between the Cobra Faction and the South Sudan government. He said South Sudanese should join the National Salvation Front to remove Kiir’s regime.

‘We need to have a system that respects the [rule of] law, democracy and justice [for] all South Sudanese people,” he said.

It is not clear how many soldiers are under the command of the South Sudan Democratic Movement. The general said he would not disclose the number of his troops, “but we are calling on our people in Murle land and other communities in South Sudan to unite and support the National Salvation Front. I can’t tell you now how many we are, but [in] the coming days [we] will answer that question.”

The government of South Sudan downplayed the launch of the National Salvation Front early this week. South Sudan Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk said the country was working on a way to restore peace and stability.

Condition for dialogue

Juuk called on Swaka to join the national dialogue scheduled for this month. But South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei told reporters in Juba on Thursday that groups that had taken up arms would not be allowed to participate in the national dialogue unless they renounced violence.

Butrus said he and other opposition groups had been forced to take up arms to fight the Kiir administration in Juba.

“If the regime was serious about the dialogue and [had agreed] to step down so that we change the situation in the country, things would not have reached this current situation. The regime [government] is the one forcing us to take up the gun,” Butrus said.

He said he was communicating with all opposition groups across the country to unite under one umbrella and overthrow the government in Juba.

The leader of the South Sudan National Movement for Change, Bangasi Joseph Bakosoro, and six shadow SPLM in Opposition governors of Equatoria states issued a statement of solidarity with the National Salvation Front.

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