South Sudan’s military is facing unprecedented upheaval after units of the South Sudanese army (SPLA), led by high-ranking officers, defected from government forces, the Sudan Tribune has reported.
The defection followed a failed attempt to forcefully free former army chief, General Paul Malong Awan, who has been under house arrest since his removal in May on security grounds.
The defection is believed to involve six officers and 200 soldiers, but these figures have not been confirmed and conflicting reports have emerged on the details surrounding the defection and the names of the officers involved.
However, there are emerging reports of dissenting officers fleeing to an unnamed neighbouring country from where they are preparing to launch operations.
But some senior officers, including Lieutenant-Colonel Chan Garang and Major Aguer Atak Ariik, have made their decision to defect public and fled Juba following the failed attempt to free Awan from house arrest.
Garang said he was no longer taking orders from General Ajonga Mawut, the army chief of staff who replaced Awan following his appointment by the president in May.
“This is the moment of change. A new dawn for our country, the direction the country is going is not clear,” said Garang.
“Instead of recognising the patriotic role played by General Awan and other officers who came forward to protect the constitution and keep the country united, they smacked him in the face and humiliated him to the point of denying him compassion to attend the burial of his daughter. So if this can happen to Awan, who then is left?” asked Garang.
He further added, “We can no longer wait for that time to come”.
Part of the reason for the defections was the knowledge that the officers would be charged with treason before a military court following their failed attempt to free Awan.
However, according to military and security forces there has been no order to pursue the defectors at this point in time as there are ongoing talks at the highest levels in an attempt to resolve the crisis.