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President Kiir threatens to exit Rome talks over slain nuns, NAS denies culpability

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President Salva Kiir, in a strongly worded statement on the Monday ambush and killing of nuns and other travelers on the Juba-Nimule highway, accused holdout groups who are non-signatories to the peace deal for the attack and threatened to pull out of the Rome talks mediated by Sant’Egidio. 

President Kiir wrote: “The fact that sisters Mary Abud and Regina Roba were coming from the celebration of an important milestone of Christianity in our country: the centenary celebration of the Loa Parish did matter to these criminals. The responsibility for their death lies squarely on the Holdout Groups, and the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity condemns this act of terror with the strongest terms possible.” 

He said the government is engaged in the Rome talks and has signed several documents to end the fighting and save lives but that it should not be taken as a sign of weakness. 

“The Government signed the Rome Declaration, the Recommitment to Cessation of Hostilities and the Declaration of Principles with the Holdout Groups with the goal of stopping the fighting and saving innocent lives,” President Kiir said. “Now that the non-signatories to the Revitalized Peace Agreement continue to violate these commitments, the Government may reconsider its position on the ongoing Sant’Egidio led Rome Initiative. Our pursuit of an inclusive peace should never be taken for weakness and used as a window to kill the innocent.”

In reaction to President Kiir’s statement, National Salvation Front (NAS) spokesperson Samuel Suba denied that his group was responsible for the attack, said they had no presence in the area, and blamed the SSPDF.

“First of all, the press statement of President Kiir has no meaning and I think he is just trying to avoid blame. There is nothing called SSPDF which provides security in the country. The country has collapsed,” Suba said. “The areas of Jebelein and Nesitu are controlled by the SSPDF and there are no rebels in these places, there is no NAS, and this is not the first time ambushes have taken place there. It is only that the nuns are well-known people, otherwise, common people are killed there all the time. It is the SSPDF who are robbing and killing people in those places.”

He said the president had a heavy deployment of his forces along the road because he was in Nimule with the Vice President (Wani Igga). 

“How can another group carry out an attack on the road with all that deployment? It is rubbish. Several times, SSPDF elements have been arrested by the National Security and police for robbing and kidnapping people on the road. They are always displayed on national television. These are the same people who did this. Even the Tiger (presidential guards are thieves and have been arrested several times in Juba for robbery,” Suba said.

On the President’s threat to withdraw from the Sant’Egidio mediated Rome Talks, Suba said President Kiir is free to walk out and blamed the latter for going back on several previous peace accords.

“On withdrawing from the Sant’Egidio Rome talks, he is free to do it after all he has abrogated many agreements. ARCSS 2015, he abrogated it, this one 2018 (R-ARCSS) he is failing it and has abrogated it. So what is special with Sant’Egidio? He can walk out,” Suba charged.

He said one of the nuns who survived the attack narrated that one of the soldiers involved was very tall implying it was SSPDF and that it was subject to public interpretation. 

Asked if he was implying that they did not have tall soldiers in NAS, Suba said, “So does that mean it is NAS. It is subject to interpretation. It does not mean that when the president comes out with a press release, then everybody must believe. You have to investigate the whole thing.” 

Relatedly, the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) in a statement earlier today denounced and condemned the attack and subsequent killing of innocent civilians and the nuns and heaped the blame on the government.

“SSOMA denounces and condemns in the strongest terms possible this heinous killing of innocent civilians and members of the clergy. We hold the regime of Salva Kiir responsible for the ongoing attacks along roads, ethnic fights in the villages, and disappearances inside the towns of South Sudan,” the SSOMA statement read.

SSOMA said the recurring attacks on civilians and breakdown in rule of law and order is indicative of a failed state and called on the international community and relevant organizations to institute investigations. 

“Alas, these recurring ambushes, attacks, and killings of innocent people along the major roads and towns in South Sudan is a clear major undeniable proof of the total breakdown of law and order and a complete lack of security protection that is indicative of the failed regime of Salva Kiir,” SSOMA statement said. “SSOMA calls on the International Community and relevant organizations to investigate these barbaric killings as there is an alarming rate of attacks on Church personnel and innocent civilians across South Sudan.”

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