Rwandan convoy in the road to Juba in 2014. RICHARD STUPART/ADR
As reports of heavy weapons fire in Juba come in over the weekend, RICHARD STUPART spoke to Dr Lual Deng, currently in Juba, in an effort to work out the details of what’s been happening over the last three days. Further interviews with those in the capital will be published to the ADR podcast as they become available. Any transcription errors are our own.
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Richard Stupart: Welcome back to the African defence review podcast. In lieu of our regular programming, we’ll be bringing you what updates we can from Juba over the next few days, as a firefight started at a roadblock late this week appears to have precipitated a full scale meltdown of the security situation in the capital. On the phone from Juba at the moment, we’re talking with Dr Lual Deng, the former state minister of finance, currently living as a researcher in the city.
Hi, good afternoon. To start with, can you maybe tell us a little bit about what’s currently happening? How did the current violence in the city start?
Dr Lual Deng: Well, I think, if you have access to Al Jazeera International, Al Jazeera News, they seem to be covering more than what I can give you, because I am confined to my house in Juba. And so what, where I am, it is downtown Juba, it’s called […]. So, no shooting in this area. But there seems to be sporadic fighting in the south of Juba town.
RS: And when did all of this begin?
LD: It started on Friday night.
RS: And this began after a roadblock in which a number of SPLA-IO fighters got into a firefight with government forces. Is that correct?
LD: Yeah, there was some fighting on Thursday. The checkpoint where the IO soldiers shot the government troops who were checking cars. That was in the evening. And they came ten SPLM and a combination of government forces – five from the army, the SPLA and then three from the police and two from the national security. That was on Thursday. Now on Friday, the presidency – that is the president, the first vice president and vice president, they are saying, because they are the presidency, they are meeting to discuss what happened on Thursday and how to prevent it. But also to prepare the statement of the president on the fifth anniversary of our independence. And so while they were meeting, Riek Machar came with his, came with over two hundred guards. And so [they] were outside the presidential palace. So while they were meeting, I don’t know what happened. Around five-thirty pm East African time shooting started. And it was from the Riek Machar forces, under the rumour that their leader was arrested inside. And so this is how the whole thing was started. And it was bloody. And so Riek managed to, he was taken back by the government forces on Friday night and then yesterday was independence day, he was quiet. But this morning, the […] the opposition forces, they started to attack, trying to move, come, because they are outside Juba in the south of the city. I don’t know where they were going. So there was fighting and they’ve captured some areas in the south before the army was called in and flushed them out. And they went back to their camps, and from that time, we’ve been hearing sporadic gunfire.
RS: So is Riek Machar no longer in the capital?
LD: No he is. He is in the capital. He is in the capital.
RS: Do you have any indication that the troops currently fighting are under control of either of the parties? Or does it appear to be more disorganised than that?
LD: Riek Machar said on Friday night that he [sat down] with the president when they went into the press conference and [they] said that they were not aware of what was happening outside. So, if it is organised, then it could be at a lower level of his forces.
RS: From what you can hear, does it sound as though the fighting has been increasing over the weekend, or has today been quieter than the previous days?
LD: No, it’s quieter. Well, it started in the morning intense, but the town has quietened now.
RSAnd have you heard any accounts of any other areas being affected, such as the UN base or other areas?
LD: No, we heard a lot, there was […] not there, but the […] is saying that there was confusion [over] what is happening and that [there is] opposition forces trying to go to UN camps for protection and the, and they say the government forces have been shooting at them, [telling] them that they won’t allow people who are carrying guns to go to the camps.
RS: Finally, there is a lot of confused messaging coming from Juba at the moment and it’s unclear as to what exactly is happening, to people watching from the outside. Is there anything that you would like to let people know or feel that it’s important to put on the record at the moment?
LD: I think the situation, if you look at the leaders – the president and his two vice on Saturday night – I think they were in control of the situation and up to now I would say they are in control. At least on the government’s side the president, he’s in control. Maybe the first vice president has lost control of his troops.