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Some argued that Kiir was overestimating his hold on power.
Those who were carefully following the political trends in South Sudan were supportive of the risk taken by Kiir to stop the blatant plunder of the country’s vast oil wealth.
With government officials and army officers abusing their positions to steal public funds with impunity as hundreds died of hunger and disease, Kiir decided to crack the whip.
In June, 2013, President Kiir had warned that Dr. Riek was abusing the Presidential powers delegated to him and issued a decree restoring to himself the Presidential Powers hitherto delegated to him as the Vice President.
On July 23, as Dr. Machar continued to be disloyal and insubordinate; Kiir dismissed him as the Vice President and dissolved the entire cabinet.
On August 1, 2013, the President appointed his new cabinet leaving out the individuals now allied to Dr. Machar for a variety of reasons as will be expounded in this article.
On August 23, 2013, Kiir appointed General James Wani Igga, who was the speaker of the National Legislative Assembly, as the Vice President of South Sudan, replacing Dr. Riek Machar.
The appointment of the new cabinet and the subsequent removal of Dr. Riek Machar and his associates angered the group.
Their removal from power provoked political incitement and the scheming to take over government by force of arms.
Although Dr. Machar, Pagan Amum and Rebecca Nyuandeng had previously declared their candidature for the leadership of the SPLM and by implication each aspiring to become the flag bearer of the SPLM for the Presidency of South Sudan in the 2015 elections; their failure to make changes in the party constitution to fulfill their plan of removing President Salva Kiir from the Chairmanship of the party, and Kiir’sdecision to remove them from the government united them to fight the President.
Intelligence and public reports confirm that the group now led by Dr. Machar indulged in a series of clandestine meetings in various places to decide on their plan and the next course of action.
Their collective decision and course of action only became apparent in the conference they held on the December 6, 2013.
According to intelligence seen by Chimpreports, this was the very day they had planned to launch the Coup de tat against the President while abroad to attend the funeral of late Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
In the communiqué of the conference they held in the SPLM House in Juba the group clearly expressed furry and discontent against the leadership of President Salva Kiir.
However, the plot was busted by security officials who tipped Kiir to return to Juba as fast as he could.
This enabled Kiir to plan adequately in case Machar’s group went ahead to execute their plan. It was a matter of time for the situation to explode.
As tensions hit boiling levels, Kiir alerted his regional counterparts including his closest ally, President Museveni that with the support of some countries in the west, Machar had raised billions of US dollars to prepare soldiers for a coup.
The NLC conference
According to South Sudan officials, the coup was planned as a violent alternative by Dr. Machar and his group to make constitutional changes that would prepare them to remove President Salva Kiir Mayardit from the Chairmanship of the SPLM in the next party convention; hence the party candidature for the 2015 Presidential Elections.
The constitutional changes Dr. Riek Machar and group had planned were to be made during the NLC meeting scheduled for the 14th-15th of December, 2013.
During the meeting, Dr. Riek was explicit in telling his party chairman that he (Machar) “was ready to take up the challenge of correcting the failures if he was given the chance to lead the party and compete in the 2015 presidential elections.”
Machar also asked Kiir, “who was his running mate and deputy for the last eight years to support him in the process, promising that he would tackle the issues head-on.”
Shortly after Dr. Riek prematurely declared his strong desire to take-over from President Kiir, Mr. Pagan Amum Okech and Mrs. Rebecca Garang also expressed strong interest to contest for the Chairpersonship of the party; each hoping to automatically become the flag bearer of the party come the 2015 elections.
Analysts say what happened is undoubtedly associated with the historical power struggle within the SPLM that should have been addressed democratically through the party.
Unfortunately, out of the 134 NLC members, only 8 constituted Dr. Riek Machar’s group; with President Salva Kiir enjoying 126 majority of the members.
Dr. Riek and his group attended the first session of the NLC meeting on December 14, 2013, when the Manifesto and some articles of the party constitution were unanimously passed.
6 out of the group’s 8 abstained from the second session of the NLC which was scheduled for the afternoon of December 15, 2013, to complete the remaining articles of the party constitution and finally approve it.
“When Kiir entered the meeting room, he asked why some people including Machar were not present. You could tell that he was not only comfortable but suspicious,” said a source that attended the historic meeting.
The meeting went on smoothly considering that majority of the ruling party officials were present.
However, hell broke loose at around 5.00pm on this second day of the NLC meeting.
A group of uniformed soldiers allied to Machar and his group opened fire at Nyakurön Cultural Centre where the SPLM-NLC meeting was taking place; kick starting the Coup.
Using an AK 47 rifle, one of Machar’s soldiers fired shots at the Tiger Brigade of the Presidential Brigade thus sparking a heavy military action.
The Tiger Battalion is trained along the lines of Uganda’s elite Special Forces. They are well facilitated, fed and better armed than the rest of the soldiers due to the sensitivity of their assignment of guarding the President and his family.
Insiders say had Kiir not trained this battle-hardened Brigade, Machar would now be President of South Sudan.
Government announced that the Coup was led by Dr. Riek Machar and the operations were commanded by General Taban Deng Gai assisted by General Alfred Lado Gore all of whom have rebelled and are at large.
The other suspects, who were subsequently arrested and detained include: Oyai Deng Ajak, Pagun Amum Okech, Dr. Majak D’e Agoot, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, Deng Alor Kuol, Gier Chuang Aluong, Dr. Cirrino Heting, John Luk Jok, Madut Biar Yel, Chol Tong Mayay, Kosti Manibe Ngai, Dr. Peter Adwok Nyaba, Khamis Abal-Latif and Deng Deng Akoon.
A Criminal case was launched (No. 4701, December 16, 2013) against the group of 17 Coup plotters charged with an attempt to change a constitutional government and abrogate the constitution of the Republic of South Sudan.
Government said then, “the charges against all the suspects, both those at large and detained, amount to treason under the constitution and punishable under the panel code with treason, concealing treason, subverting constitutional government, insurgency, possession of dangerous weapons, causing disaffection amongst the defense and the other forces, publishing or communicating false statement prejudicial to South Sudan, undermining authority of or insulting the President, murder, join acts, abetment and criminal conspiracy.”
Was it a Coup?
It should be remembered that after being removed from office, on July 4, 2013, Dr. Riek Machar Teny himself declared in an interview with a London News Paper, The Guardian, by Simon Tisdal his plans to take-over the leadership of South Sudan.
He unambiguously stated that he was ready for a new battle; that he was ready to topple his leader and transform his country and spoke critically of President Salva and urged him to step-down to avoid a leadership contest.
On December 6, 2013, when asked during the press conference they held in preparation for the Coup how they would implement their plan to remove President Salva if they failed politically, Dr. Riek’s answered ‘we will use all means’.
Officials told Chimpreports in an investigation that the Presidential Guards are only located in the Presidency, around buildings where the President and the Vice President abode.
If what happened was just a split within the Presidential Guards then the rebellion that followed the aborted Coup would not have spread across the Country in such a short period of time.
Dr. Riek launched the Coupon the December 15, 2013. On December 16, 2013, the second day of the aborted coup, he assessed that his rebel forces were about to over-run Juba, he declared over BBC that he would be taking over Juba and therefore the government in 2 hours.
“If this was not a planned Coup, why would Riek make such declarations?” wondered a source.
Machar responded that the war was imposed on him by Kiir who was suffocating reformist ideas in the ruling party.
Presidential Guards Command
Officials said the sequence of the aborted coup events fulfilled all the conventional characteristics of an unconstitutional military take-over of a democratically elected government of a sovereign nation in that a large number of presidential guards allied to Riek rebelled and attempted to take-over the headquarters of the presidential guards.
They were repulsed by the loyal section of the Tiger Battalion.
At that time, a small group from the rebel presidential guards moved to take-over the National Television and Radio Stations, and another headed towards the Presidential Palace to complete the coup.
Simultaneously, a group in the main military barracks, not part of the Presidential Guards, opened fire against their colleagues who were not part of the coup with view to taking over the military barracks.
Within 48 hours the rebellion spread across most of Upper Nile Region by forces mainly from Riek’s Nuer Community. This force combined all armed units which have no relation with the Presidential Guards.
They temporarily captured Bor, Akobo, Malakal, Bentiu and some Counties in Greater Upper Nile. Other rebel forces loyal to renegade Riek in Equatoria simply left their stations and melted into the bush heading towards positions a priory assigned for them to assemble.
Within weeks government forces recaptured the town and Counties from the rebels. Riek now commands a rebel movement, initially called SPLM/SPLA-In Opposition, and more recently he called it SPLM/SPLA South Sudan Resistance Movement.
After days and weeks of fierce fighting the forces loyal to the government emerged triumphant, aborted the coup, brought the security situation under control in Juba and liberated all the towns from the rebels.
Officials told this website that in Riek and his group’s failed coup, all the tribes in South Sudan participated in foiling it.
“Indeed the front lines where there was heavy fighting was won over to the government of South Sudan by Commanders and senior officers from the Nuer Community.”
With the support of the Ugandan army which helped SPLA to repulse rebels and retake key towns such as Bor, Machar was contained.
President Museveni is said to have telephoned his regional counterparts, saying Machar must either surrender or accept peace talks with the Juba government lest the UPDF confronts the new rebel movement.
Threatened with a heavy aerial and ground UPDF bombardment campaign, Machar agreed to the talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In our next investigative edition, Chimpreports will reveal how Machar managed to penetrate security organs in a bid to topple President Sava Kiir.
Credit: Puoch Riek Deng, Public Relations Officer, South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Agency ( SSRRA), contributed to this story with excerpts from article “The Truth about the Aborted Coup of Dr. Riek Machar and his group of the 15thDecember, 2013; documented by the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (7th January, 2014).