ADDIS ABABA — Young South Sudanese who fled the conflict in their country are returning to fight against the government; hundreds have already returned, and more are packing their bags.
About 100 South Sudanese between the age of 18 and 40 left the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, this past week, and up to 300 more are expected to leave in the coming two weeks.
Gatdet, 31, fled to Ethiopia one month ago. He is an ethnic Nuer and feared for his life in Juba, where he worked as a sales representative. Gatdet said he must go back and fight for his country, on the side of the opposition.
“I don’t have a country basically now so I have to fight for it to go back and live there. The people in the opposition, they were part of SPLM, then they had wanted SPLM internal reforms which president refused. They refused to sit together and have internal dialogues, and discuss problem and way forward. We have to fight with opposition because first time this problem started, then the president refused democratic transition to move forward," said Gatdet.
More than 500 young South Sudanese have shown an interest in going back home and fighting. The elders in South Sudanese refugee communities have tried to discourage some, especially the students, saying education is more important, but their arguments are barely heard.
James, 38, fled to Ethiopia shortly after fighting broke out in December. He received military training as a child as part of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, but never actually fought. He said he is now ready to defend his country and is scheduled to leave in two weeks.
“The fact [is] that the war was imposed on the majority of South Sudan. We feel that if the leadership does not see dialogue as a mean of peaceful solution of things, then now we have violence. We, the population, accept war, so let us go into the field and let us see who is going to win this and if we win military. Then we will prove whoever who imposed this war on us wrong,” said James.
Both Gatdet and James said they are going home voluntarily and have not been recruited by the opposition. The returning South Sudanese also include a few females among them. From Addis Ababa, they will fly to Ethiopia’s southwestern region, Gambella. From there they will cross the river into South Sudan and travel to opposition-held areas. After receiving military training and a rank, everyone will be tasked with specific duties, which include frontline fighting.
Fighting in South Sudan broke out mid-December after President Salva Kiir accused his former vice president Riek Machar of planning a coup. The East African bloc IGAD has been mediating peace talks and announced last week that a stabilization and protection force should be send to South Sudan.
Gatdet said he does not support the intervention of foreign troops and doubts their credibility.
“Why are they collecting troops? In that case it will be a question of how these troops are going to be neutral. Because if you put them on the oil field, why are they protecting oil fields? It means they are also strengthening the government which is killing its own people,” said Gatdet.
Peace negotiations between the two fighting parties have made little progress. Although two agreements were signed in January, including a cessation of hostilities, fighting continues and the talks have been postponed till late March.