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South Sudan Rebel Spokesman Defects

FILE - Lul Ruai Koang (L), the military spokesperson for the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and James Gatdet Dak, spokesperson for opposition leader Riek Machar (R), give a statement to the press in Addis Ababa on May 9, 2014.

The military spokesman for South Sudan’s armed opposition has defected from the group, due to concerns about the movement’s leadership. It is not yet clear what effect the move will have on the conflict or ongoing peace talks with the government.

Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang announced a split with South Sudan’s rebel opposition, which has been battling government forces since December 2013.

Announcing the formation of a new group called the South Sudan Resistance Movement and Army, Koang declared a split from the opposition leader, former vice president Riek Machar.

“The declaration that we are making today is that we no longer want to be fighting for an organization that wants to keep on fighting simply because one man at the top wants to rule this country by force,” he said.

Opposition rallying to new movement

Koang previously served as a spokesman for the opposition and a representative during peace talks in Addis Ababa. Speaking in Nairobi, he said he could not say exactly how many people have joined the new movement, but estimated 75 percent of the opposition is behind him.

He said the new Resistance Movement, which allegedly includes military commanders, is declaring a cease-fire and is waiting for the government to respond.

“We have been preparing for a major offensive, the government has been preparing for a major offensive, and we are trying to avert this eventuality by declaring a unilateral cease-fire and talking instead of fighting. So I am once again calling on the government to listen to voices of people calling for peace,” he said.

Inter-ethnic divisions

The conflict in South Sudan began when a political dispute between Machar and President Salva Kiir turned violent, splitting factions of the armed forces against each other and prompting inter-ethnic violence between Kiir’s Dinka people and Machar’s Nuer community.

Koang said the Resistance Movement represents Nuer people and is calling for the establishment of a Nuer state.

The former spokesman denied he is effectively defecting to the side of government, although the news conference Wednesday was organized by the South Sudanese Embassy and attended by a number of diplomats.

South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Banjamin also told VOA the government welcomes the formation of the new movement.

“This is an excellent move on their part, it is a realization of their patriotism and that the sovereignty of South Sudan cannot be tampered with in the name of a single tribe, and that it is important that they become a part of the national fabric of the whole of South Sudan.”

It is not clear what effect the move will have on peace talks.

The parties have signed several cessation of hostilities agreements in the past year, which have all been almost immediately violated.

The most recent deal, signed earlier this month, paves the way for a transitional government, and called for a more comprehensive agreement to be finalized by March 5.

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