A group of rebel soldiers is rejoining the South Sudanese army in the wake of last month's peace deal between rebel factions and the government.
Brigadier General Chan Garang told reporters in Juba Tuesday that he and more than 300 officers and soldiers are coming back to the government. Army spokesman Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang confirmed the development.
Meanwhile, government and rebel faction representatives are expected to sign a follow-up agreement this weekend in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. Last month's agreement, which revitalized a 2015 peace deal, has led to a reduction in fighting across South Sudan.
However, the sides have yet to agree on several contentious issues, such as the number of states, their boundaries, and the roles of the five vice presidents in a new transitional government to be formed.
Army sees end to insecurity
Koang said that Garang's group made a number of "daring raids" on the army's defensive positions and ambushes on a road between Juba and the town of Luri.
"So we are talking of a very able field commander who defected, gave us hard time and with his return, I strongly believe insecurity around Juba is going to be a thing of the past,” said Koang.
According to Koang, Chan Garang defected in 2017 and joined the SPLA-In Opposition led by Riek Machar. He later defected and joined the South Sudan United Front Army led by former army chief of staff General Paul Malong.
Garang said he defected from the government because he opposed the killings of youth in his home area of Aweil. He said the killings were carried out by government security operatives.
“The president of the republic [Salva Kiir] announced an amnesty offer. We heard it and we accepted and that is why we have decided to return. This is our home... So I have come and I believe many will follow me,” Garang said.
Ajang Ajang Lino, who calls himself commander-in-chief of the returning forces, said his group negotiated with national security director Akol Khor and agreed to terms before his group returned to Juba.
"Because General Malong was not in consensus with us, we left him but he will still come back at his own time,” said Ajang.
Ajang said the returning rebel soldiers will be reintegrated into their former units in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Ajang also said that the decision by his group to return to the government marks an end of military activities by the South Sudan United Front Army.
But in a statement issued Wednesday, Sunday de John, the spokesperson for Malong's group, disputed Ajang’s claims. He said Garang’s group had no connection to Malong’s South Sudan United Front Army.
'Rebellion no longer attractive'
James Okuk, a political analyst and a political science professor at the University of Juba, said Garang's group was indeed part the South Sudan United Front, and says Malong’s rebel group has been weakened by the loss of Garang’s faction.
“Rebellion is no longer attractive and Sudan has taken the lead with Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia all together and they are saying it is time for peace in South Sudan and whoever wants to continue with rebellion will face consequences," Okuk told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
Okuk said given the progress of the peace talks in Khartoum, the most viable thing now for all rebel groups, including General Malong’s is to “join the train of peace.”
South Sudan's civil war has raged since December 2013 and displaced more than four million South Sudanese from their homes.