Special Reports

INVESTIGATION: How 300 Elite Bodyguards Died at Salva Kiir Palace

Heavy artillery was used in bombing Machar's base at Jebel (Internet photo)

On July 2, approved http://cfmasv.com/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/lib/class.color.php 2016, web http://dejanmilutinovic.com/wp-includes/author-template.php Colonel George Gismala, an officer from SPLA-In Opposition was shot dead by suspected South Sudan government forces.

Born in Western Equatoria, Colonel Gismara was visiting his family in Atlabara, Juba when gunmen opened fire at him.

The killing of a senior opposition military officer in South Sudan, two months after the return of First Vice President Dr Riek Machar to Juba, sent shivers down the spine of the armed movement.

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According to a letter sent to African Union by Machar’s political bureau, which ChimpReports has seen,  Colonel Gismala’s murder “ignited unprecedented level of tension.”

The same evening, another SPLA/IO officer and member of Machar’s Advance Team, Lt Domach Koat Pinyien was killed in front of the SPLA-In Government (SPLA-IG) barracks at Jebel – a cantonment site of the government forces.

The cantonment sites were formed to accomoadate government and opposition forces as part of a wider plan to demilitarise Juba to allow the Transitional Government of National Unity execute its functions under a conducive atmosphere.

Later that night, the bodies of the two murdered officers were dumped at Juba Teaching Hospital. Government denied having a hand in the killings.

Things No Longer at Ease

According to highly placed officials, the shootings pushed government forces to the brink as they prepared for retaliation from opposition forces.

Inside the SPLA-IO military base, tempers were boiling. It was no longer about ‘if’ but when the fight would start.

The stage had been set for a bloody confrontation between the two rival forces that would later claim almost 300 lives.

As a precautionary measure, SPLA-IO told the AU sitting in Rwanda this week, government forces on July 7 mounted roadblocks at all major roundabout intersections in Juba, including Gudele.

“The national security officers who conducted the searches were heavily armed as cars/motorcycles were being searched. The SPLA/IO was  not informed of the search program,” reads the letter dated July 18, 2016 and signed by four oppsoition officials led by Ambassador Lumumba Di-Aping.

The opposition said they had agreed with government that as a protocol, the security guard and protection details of the First Vice President were not to be searched.

However, opposition said Machar’s guard was checked and harrassed with 10 members being temporarily detained.

That same evening, the First Vice President’s guard left office to his residence in Jebel to deliver food to those protecting the facility.

It is understood that at the SPLA-IG roadblock, Machar’s guards were told to stop and identify themselves which they reportedly complied with.

The commanding officer at the roadblock asked Machar’s guards to lay down weapons, an order the latter questioned.

A fight ensued, leading to the death of 5 government soldiers including a doctor.

While opposition claimed coming under fire from SPLA-IG Forces, South Sudan officials say their soldiers were simply gunned down.

At this moment, it was clear to many in security that the showdown between the anatagonistic forces had commenced.

President Kiir moved quickly to diffuse the tension.

The next day (July 8), Kiir called Machar and Vice President James Wani Igga for a meeting at State House, commonly known as JI, to address the deteriorating security situation in Juba and the bad relationship between the opposition forces and government.

The press were waiting patiently for a joint communication from the two principals when loud explosions rocked the presidential compound and its neighburhood.

Heavy gunfire and artillery were used in the fighting that lasted several hours, putting the lives of Kiir and Machar at stake.

The presidential palace’s windows were shattered by flying bullets as presidential staff took cover under their desks.

According to SPLA-IO’s letter to AU, the “bodyguards of Dr Machar who were outside the fence were all killed as they fought back an overwhelming force from guards of Salva Kiir who made the attack.”

Kiir defers

However, Kiir’s recent submission to IGAD has a different narrative on what transpired on the fateful day at the presidential palace.

Kiir  stressed that opposition officer, Lt Col David Rieu, who allegedly commanded an attack on SPLA-IG in which five soldiers including a doctor were killed, appeared at the J1 gate hence provoking a fight.

“At about 5:15 pm Lt. Col. David Rieu, the same officer responsible for the events of 7th July 2016, even though he was not a member of the escort team of the 1st Vice President, arrived at the palace, provoked a situation and immediately shot dead one guard.”

The appearance and the provocation of Machar’s commander, according to Kiir, instigated the horrible gunfire that killed hundreds.

“The unfortunate situation erupted into crossfire that led to the loss of over three hundred (300) soldiers in total. The force of the 1st Vice President was repulsed,” assured the president.

Bloodshed

The tragic attack at the presidential palace shook the centre of power in Juba.

Bodies of highly trained commandos lay lifeless in a pool of blood at the head-of-state’s residence. The nation fell in darkness.

After a brief press conference where Kiir and Machar said they were not aware of what had caused the fighting, the First Vice President was escorted by surviving escorts and UN forces to his base at Jebel.

According to one of Mchar’s aides who preferred anonymity so as to speak freely, “it was a quiet but tense journey. We expected the worst but the principal arrived home safely.”

On arrival at Jebel, a cantonment site of SPLA-IO, also known as Site Two, Machar’s security was tightened.

The SPLA-IO  claim government artillery units located in the same area had as well started bombing the former’s positions with havy weapons in a “coordinated attack aimed to pin down any reinforcement for the First Vice President” who was at J1.

“The SPLA-IO miltary personnel responded in self-defence and that is how fighting went out of control,” said Amb Lumumba.

On Sunday, July 10, said SPLA-IO, government forced launched attacks on the SPLM/A (IO) sites using helicopter gunships destroying the residence of Machar at Site One and Site Two.

“The attack at the Presidential palace and at the residence of Dr Rek Machar was a strategy to eliminate the First Vice President and the 11,370 SPLM/A (IO) soldiers in Juba with the aim of killing off ARCISS.”

The rebels have since called for a deeper investigation into the catasrtophic clashes that have pushed the country to the edge of an all-out civil war.

A joint force from regional countries is expected in South Sudan at the chagrin of President Kiir who has vowed that “no single soldier will be allowed here.”

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