JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN —
Yei River County’s commissioner and other local officials defected this week to a SPLM-In Opposition faction loyal to former South Sudan First Vice President Riek Machar, according to Yei River State officials.
Bidali Cosmas Wori-Kojo is the second Yei River State official to defect to the SPLM-IO in recent weeks. Last month, Abraham Wani, deputy governor of Yei River State, joined the same SPLM-IO faction.
Yei River State Information Minister Steven Lodu Onseimo confirmed Thursday that Commissioner Kojo and three other officials disappeared from Yei town earlier this week. He said two of the commissioner’s body guards also defected.
Lodu said the defectors took three government vehicles, but said state security agents recovered one of the cars. Lodu called the defections unacceptable.
“The government of Yei River State still believes in the presidential amnesty declared to all those who have taken up arms against the government to lay down their arms and join the government to rebuild the country,” Lodu said.
It is the second time in as many months that Yei River State officials apparently defected to the SPLM-IO.
Lodu said the defections do not reflect the attitude of most residents.
“The defection of the four individuals is their personal decision and has nothing to do with any of their relatives or friends. So you can see a decision that was made by the commissioner himself. He just decided to one day take off,” Lodu said.
There have been dozens of reports of looting and killing by unknown gunmen in Yei River State over the past six months, forcing thousands of civilians to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighboring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Lodu called on armed groups operating in the area to lay down their weapons and join the national army.
“Report to the cantonment areas declared by the Transitional Government of National Unity under the wise leadership of his Excellency General Salva Kiir Mayardit in the greater Equatoria region or possibly reintegrate into the army,” Lodu urged.
Last week, President Kiir threatened to personally lead military operations against armed groups in Yei River State if armed opposition groups continued to cause insecurity.
Lodu is calling on armed groups fighting government forces to peacefully air their grievances with officials and work toward restoring peace in Yei River.