Ambassador Chol Ajongo of South Sudan during a press conference in Nairobi, July 12, 2016. Photo/BRIAN SIMIYU

How ‘false’ Facebook post caused death of 272 in South Sudan


Ambassador Chol Ajongo of South Sudan during a press conference in Nairobi, July 12, 2016. Photo/BRIAN SIMIYU
Ambassador Chol Ajongo of South Sudan during a press conference in Nairobi, July 12, 2016. Photo/BRIAN SIMIYU

A “false” Facebook post on South Sudan’s First Vice President Riek Machar account caused the death of 272 people following renewed fighting among rival forces.

The country’s embassy in Nairobi claimed James Gatdet, an official in the joint administration allegedly told Machar’s army – through an update on the account – that he had been detained by President Salva Kiir forces at the palace.

Ambassador Chol Ajongo said it is this information that led the army to respond, causing the fighting in the capital Juba which entered its fifth day on Tuesday.

“On July 8, 2016, the SPLA-IO forces Spokesman James Gatdet, Press Secretary of Dr Riek Machar created and spread rumours that their leader Dr Riek Machar Teny was under arrest,” Ajongo said at a press briefing.

“This was false, because Machar was attending a security briefing meeting with President Kiir, Vice President James Wani and other senior government officials at the J1 (presidential palace),” he said.

“Sudan’s People Liberation Army In Opposition forces proceeded to attack the government forces at J1 at 4.15 and killed many innocent soldiers,” he said.

Ajongo said that after the post was published on Friday, a member of Machar’s troops forced his way into the palace.

But he was denied access leading to a confrontation between the officer and security at the gate, the tiff causing injury of a security officer.

“One of the officers came into the palace and wanted to force his way through the doors to where the meeting was taking place. He was denied access to the building. He then shot the officer and the fighting broke out,” the envoy claimed.

The Ambassador said the “falsehood” was spread when Machar was attending a security meeting with Kiir and other top government officials.

Ajongo, who was posted to Kenya in June, said: “President Kiir protected Dr Machar’s life until 11.40pm when he personally arranged for armed security escort to take him back safely to his residence in Jebel Kujor area.”

He accused Machar-allied forces of pursuing conflict despite the agreement signed in August 2015 that drafted a power sharing agreement.

“Anti-peace elements within the SPLA-IO have totally disregarded peace and decided a return to war,” he said.

He said the SPLA-IO were roaming the streets at night while heavily armed and without clear purpose, and refused to stop at check-points. He also said they shot at vehicles including one of the United States of America Embassy in Juba.

The Ambassador said Juba International Airport reopened on Tuesday and further dismissed calls by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) to send peacekeeping forces to the nation.

“They (Igad) should tell whether the troops will be imposed on us or an invasion

on our sovereign country,” he said.

On Monday, ministers from the regional bloc held a special summit in Nairobi after which senior official Tedros Adhanom urged all parties to engage in dialogue instead of violence.

He also fronted the possibility of sending Africa Union peacekeeping teams to the clash-torn country, which did not get the chance to celebrate its fifth independence on Saturday.

The renewed fighting started on Friday near State House when former rebel leader Machar Kiir were having a meeting.

The fighting has since led to deaths of 272 people, including civilians and displaced thousands of others.

Read: 15 Kenyan truck drivers killed in South Sudan violence – union

The Kakuma refugee camp is expected to receive more refugees as Kenya opens its border with South Sudan.

“There are no new arrivals so far. But we are closely monitoring the situation with the Kenya Directorate of Refugee Affairs,” said UNHCR-Kenya spokesman Duke Mwancha.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an arms embargo against South Sudan and appealed to the UN Security Council to target sanctions against those involved in the fighting.

Thousands have been displaced by the standoff in Juba and are sheltering at two UN bases, a World Food Programme compound and other areas.

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