Ex-general forms rebel group to topple South Sudan leader
Lieutenant-General Thomas Cirillo Swaka quit last month issuing a stinging indictment of President Salva Kiir’s regime, which he accused of carrying out a “tribally engineered war”.
On Monday Swaka declared the creation of his National Salvation Front, abbreviated as NAS, and called on the people of South Sudan “to rise up and topple the Kiir regime”.
“The National Salvation Front is convinced that to restore sanity and normalcy in our country, Kiir must go; he must vacate office without further bloodshed,” his statement said.
Swaka, former deputy chief of the general staff for logistics, said Kiir should be “removed from power by all means necessary.”
The resignation of the influential and respected general was a blow to Kiir’s government and army, which are increasingly dominated by the president’s Dinka tribe.
Swaka is an Equatorian from a previously peaceful part of the country that has come under government attack in recent months.
He has accused Kiir of pursuing “ethnic cleansing”.
The extent of the former general’s political and military support — both in South Sudan and in the wider region — is unclear.
The 17-page letter declaring his rebellion was signed by him alone, raising questions about his ability to launch a broad movement to challenge Kiir.
Alan Boswell, a conflict analyst studying South Sudan, described the letter as “a personal manifesto”, adding that Swaka, who has been in contact with Ethiopian and Sudanese officials among others, “looked more disruptive before he declared his one-man rebellion”.
South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused his deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup. The fighting that followed intially split the country between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer groups, but as the war spread so did the cracks between other ethnic groups.
An August 2015 peace deal failed to end the conflict, and after an outbreak of fighting in Juba, the capital, in July last year, Machar fled into exile in South Africa, leaving the rebels without an active figurehead.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people, uprooted millions and left nearly half the country in need of emergency food aid. In February the UN declared a “man-made” famine in some parts of the country.