Interview: Agwelek Division; their mission and vision
The Agwelek Division of the breakaway Kit-Gwang faction of the SPLM/SPLA-IO, which signed a deal with the SPLM-IG says they stand for the land rights of the Chollo community and the peaceful coexistence of the communities in the Greater Upper Nile region.
A delegation of the division under the command of Gen. Johnson Olony arrived in Juba last week to meet President Salva Kiir and further discuss the Khartoum Peace Agreement.
Radio Tamazuj caught up with the head of the Agwelek Division advance delegation, General Paul Achut Nyibek, and explains why they broke free of SPLM/A-IO under First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar and the contents of the Khartoum Peace Agreement.
Below are edited excerpts of the interview.
Q: Kindly can you introduce yourself and why are you here in Juba?
A: My name is Paul Achot Achobek, the head of the delegation of Agwelek forces which arrived in Juba three days ago. We came to Juba following the Khartoum Peace Agreement that was signed on January 16th. So we are here as part of the implementation process of the Khartoum Peace Agreement, and the delegation consists of some political leaders, military commanders, senior Chollo (Shilluk) tribesmen, and some advisors.
Q: Why did the Agwelek forces break away from Machar's movement?
A: For records and history, of course, I will tell you that it was established between 2008 and 2009 even before Machar’s movement was established. He found our forces on the battlefield already.
The Agwelek forces started as a youth revolution protesting against land grabbing issues in Upper Nile State and particularly Chollo lands. Riek Machar rebelled against the government in 2013, while the Agwelek forces were fighting on the battlefield in the forests of Upper Nile. And what united the two forces was the goal of fighting one enemy. But Agwelek was initiated as a youth revolution that rejected the land grabbing of the Chollo Kingdom.
But all this time, Agwelek has existed as an independent force within the opposition and voices were demanding that Agwelek should lead the opposition forces. But despite being part of the IO, it was still operating as an independent force.
So after the signing of the revitalized peace agreement and during the implementation process, Agwelek was unfairly treated. And when Machar was asked to divide the power-sharing, we did not feel that we were given the share we deserve. We agreed that General Johnson Olony should be appointed as the governor of Upper Nile State, but this was not implemented. Machar decided to appoint somebody else.
So all these reasons forced Agwelek to feel unsatisfied. We felt that Machar did not pay much attention to the reason why we took up arms against the government. He decided to relocate the capital of Makal County out of Malakal town. So we re-strategized and decided to leave Machar’s IO.
Q: What are the main aspects of the Khartoum Peace Agreement?
A: One of the most important issues is the issue of Shilluk lands. We have agreed that the borders of the Chollo Kingdom should be per the map of Sudan 1/1/1956 after the independence of Sudan from Britain. The agreement also resolved that it would be implemented based on the revitalized peace agreement.
It was also agreed to involve the Dinka tribes in Upper Nile and the Ruweng Administration in the peace conference to find ways of peaceful coexistence in the Greater Upper Nile State, Muslim and Christian clergy in the process of reconciliation between communities in Upper Nile. The agreement also resolved that all houses occupied illegally in Malakal town and other towns should be vacated and the rightful owners to return to their homes. It was also agreed that the Agwelek forces should be cantoned before they are reintegrated into the national army.
There are some parts of the agreement that will be discussed herein Juba, that is why, we are here to follow them up, including political agreement.
Q: When will your leader Johnson Olony return to Juba?
A: General Johnson Olony is ready to come to Juba anytime. Especially after the general amnesty that was issued against all the Kit Gwang forces. So we are here to prepare the way for him to return. As much as we implement this agreement, General Olony will be coming soon to Juba.
Q: What are the guarantees in the agreement for the safe return of citizens to their homes?
A: Due to the effect of the war in the Upper Nile, communities of Jieng and Chollo were separated from one another. Despite that, they are bloodily connected. We firmly believe that both Jieng and Chollo cannot live without one another. Our destiny is that we live together as one as it used to be before. We were living peacefully. Politicians are the main cause of the division among the people. That is why we want to go back to the traditional leaders and the grassroots, they will help close the differences among our communities.
So we believe that the native administration can find a solution to the problem of Upper Nile through historical maps in ancient Sudan. After that, we ask the religious, for example, to intervene to facilitate the process of reconciliation between the people. After all, we will have to encourage the displaced persons and refugees to return to their villages and homes.
Q: Have you discussed anything related to power-sharing in the agreement?
A: We have not discussed anything related to power-sharing. We are only focusing now on the security arrangements. But we have agreed in principle that the two sides will have to decide on that later. We will have some share in the national government and the state government as well.
Q: What is your message to the IDPs and refugees in the displaced camps who are waiting eagerly to return to their homes?
A: I take this opportunity to send my regards to the people of Upper Nile. Before the war, people were so close to each other and now due to fighting, people have scattered all over. I want to tell them that peace has come finally and we are serious about what we are saying. Our presence in Juba is an indication that we are for peace and we need stability so that people return to their y homes.
I know that some people are still skeptical about this peace, and this is due to some problems that happened during the war period. Some might be thinking that we are coming back to retaliate against one another. But I am here assuring all of them that we are holding olive leaves and peace doves, and we intend that the ordinary people come back to their homes and engage in their activities.
This country is ours and if we continue fighting, it will not see development. Brothers fight but at the end of the day, we need to sit at the negotiation table and resolve our differences through peaceful means. On behalf of our leaders, we are here in Juba and ready to implement the peace. We also want to see the same commitment from the other side.