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Holdout rebel group blamed over ambushes on South Sudan highway

Louis Lobong Lojore, Governor of Eastern Equatoria State

Denis Ejulu

The renewed spate of killings along the busy Juba-Nimule road that have sent shock waves and fear in the capital are a handiwork of National Salvation Front (NAS) which is among a plethora of groups that refused to sign the 2018 revitalized peace deal.

Prior to the latest incident on Sunday that left two Kenyan truck drivers killed and three others missing, on August 16th two Catholic nuns were brutally murdered in cold blood at Jebeleen as they returned from Loa Parish.

The nuns had attended the centenary celebrations of Loa Parish that was also attended by President Salva Kiir and the Governor of Eastern Equatoria Louis Lobong Lojore.

The rampant spate of killings that have caused Kenyan and Ugandan truck drivers to park their cargo at Elegu border post in protest over insecurity are being blamed on NAS headed by renegade Gen.Thomas Cirilo Swaka.

Lobong in an exclusive interview with The Juba Echo on Thursday, said the attacks on the major highway point to insurgents’ hell bent at paralyzing traffic along the road, in addition to black mailing the government.

“To me that incident is not the work of criminals, for example, some of the incidents happening in Eastern Equatoria like high way robberies are a work of high way robbers who storm the cars to loot not with the intention to kill, but in this particular one they intended to kill because they did not take anything they shot and killed people and they vanished,” said Lobong.

President Salva Kiir recently threatened to pull out of the Rome peace talks with hold-out groups, arguing that despite signing the cessation of hostilities with them they continue to violate it with impunity.

“Definitely, even me I can point a finger at the hold-out groups who did not sign the 2018 revitalized peace agreement and who are they? They are known to be around that area and if there is any other new groups which we don’t know but none is being officially known that they rob around that area,” said Lobong.

Lobong who on the fateful day was traveling behind the vehicle the Catholic nuns were in said he managed to disrupt the attackers, thus rescuing some survivors.

“It happened that I was also coming from behind that very day. It was actually me who rescued the survivors and even brought the dead bodies of the two sisters up to Juba here,” he disclosed.

Meanwhile, Lobong also noted that ex-combatants who deserted cantonment and training sites in the state are the criminals behind some of the road ambushes in Eastern Equatoria.

“Some of these (robbers) people carrying out high way robberies are former soldiers from the various opposition groups who had been mobilized to assemble into training centers, in order to be recruited into the army or other organized forces,” he said.

“Some of them were promised very high ranks, they were rapidly promoted and some of these people were either working with NGOs, in other organized forces in the government or were doing some business. They left their jobs and rushed to get high ranks in the training centers, but now time has passed and they are facing challenges so they have resorted to high way robberies,” said Lobong.

The Governor’s convoy came under attack last month by some of these criminals whom he later on discovered were paid by some rival politicians to bump him off.

“Some months ago my convoy was ambushed and shot at that was politically motivated, we sorted it out and we now know the people behind that, and it was not agreed on by all the communities but it was just individuals thirsty for power thank God that nothing happened,” Lobong revealed.

In the aftermath of violent protests by unemployed youth dubbed “Monyomiji” who injured humanitarian workers and UN staff while demanding jobs, Lobong assured the situation has been diffused as aid workers go about the operations freely.

“We diffused the situation but it still requires the national government to address the issue (unemployment) allover South Sudan. The issues are similar but only that the difference with Eastern Equatoria is that these particular youth who call themselves “Monyomiji” have tried to antagonize other youth from the state,” he disclosed.

“They were politically incited but the fact is that there is really need for youth employment across the country,” he added.

“Humanitarian agencies are working safely in Eastern Equatoria and we are there as a government to ensure they are protected, but because as I said before you never know sometimes any angry individuals can come up from anywhere in the bushes, and when they see a vehicle thinking that this vehicle is carrying food or money this can happen but this is an isolated incident it is not that they are targeting humanitarian agencies alone,” he said further.

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