By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
March 21, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – The Eritrean government has dismissed reports alleging that the Red Sea nation has been providing military support to South Sudan rebels led by former vice president, Riek Machar.
Recently, Eritrean citizens living in Bor, the capital of South Sudan’s Jonglei state, alleged that they have been receiving threats because Eritrea is backing the insurgency, which began other three months ago.
Eritreans who fled to neighbouring countries in protest to political oppression in the homeland are considered to be traitors by the government in Asmara and could face lengthy prison terms if returned home.
In late February, American human rights activist, John Prendergast addressed the United States Congress subcommittee on Africa about the alleged military support and the concern raised by Eritreans in Jonglei.
In a statement issued few days ago, the Eritrean government said the country has in the past been falsely accused of supporting Khartoum in the April 2012 battle between Sudan and South Sudan over the contested oil-town border town of Heglig.
Asmara also said that they have wrongly been accused of backing David Yau Yau, who has been leading rebellions against the Juba government on and off for almost four years.
“Today they are peddling a preposterous lie accusing the Government of Eritrea for supporting Machar” the statement said, adding “No one is surprised by this outrageous lie”.
The Eritrean government further said its relation with the government and people of South Sudan is an indelible historical fact. Asmara supported the now government (SPLM) and national army (SPLA) of South Sudan during the civil war that led to independence from Sudan in 2011.
“Eritrea’s unequivocal stance in regard to the new realities was not influenced by, and occurred irrespective of, the factors and protagonists that impinged on the unfolding developments,” the statement said
A negotiator with South Sudan’s SPLM-in-opposition in Addis Ababa similarly rejected the rebel group has ties with the Eritrean government.
“We have no relation with Eritrea. Neither have we ever talked to them nor they ever talked to us,” Puot Kang Chol, one of the representatives of the 16-member rebel delegation, told Sudan Tribune.
He, however, said Eritrea has the right to voice concern like any other African countries over the situation in South Sudan.
He dismissed allegations of receiving any military support from Eritrea.
A new round of regionally mediated peace talks talks between South Sudan’s government and SPLM in Opposition is due to resume in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday.
So far IGAD – the Intergovernmental Authority on Development – has only managed to get the two sides to a agree to a weak ceasefire deal that both sides were unable to keep.
It is hoped that the next round of talks will address the root causes of the conflict which was triggered by a power struggle within the SPLM back in December.
Some observers have told Sudan Tribune that the resumption of the peace talks are unlikely, arguing that rebels are unhappy with the regional bloc’s decision to deploy East African troops in South Sudan in addition to the peacekeepers deployed as part of the United Nations mission, which is in the process of increasing to over 14,000 personnel.
Eritreans in Bor threatened, shops looted as Jonglei locals accuse Asmara of backing rebels