South Sudan slams media “lies” on Kiir’s return from China
April 26, 2012 (JUBA) – South Sudan on Thursday forcefully denied reports that growing dissent at home has prompted the country’s president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, to return from China earlier than originally scheduled.
FILE – South Sudan’s Media Minister Barnaba Benjamin Marial (REUTERS)
Kiir began an official visit to China on Tuesday amid growing tension with his northern neighbor Sudan following South Sudan’s brief occupation of disputed Heglig region two weeks ago.
South Sudan says it withdrew troops from Heglig in response to international pressure whereas Sudan says the area was reclaimed by force.
The presidential visit was officially announced to be five days in length but a Chinese official said on Wednesday that Kiir has had to cancel a planned visit to Shanghai city due to “domestic pressure.”
“It is unfortunate that you have to shorten your stay in China due to domestic issues and are not going to Shanghai,” China’s parliamentary chief Wu Bangguo told Kiir as the two men began talks in the presence of journalists.
But South Sudan’s information minister and government’s spokesman, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, has accused the media of spreading false reports about the reason of the president’s decision to return home.
Speaking at a question-and-answer program hosted by the Juba-based Radio Bakhita on Thursday’s morning, Benjamin accused some media outlets of “propagating lies” about Kiir’s decision to return home.
He added that “some newspapers in Khartoum and other international media are reporting that president Kiir is cutting his trip [short] because of domestic matters. Some of them including Radio France International [RFI] have gone [as] far [as] to claim president Kiir cut short his visit because there is a coup. This is not true”
Benjamin explained that the arrangement with China was for Kiir to stay for “three to four days” while the remaining days were to be completed by members of his accompanying delegation.
He turned to defend Kiir’s decision to withdraw troops from Heglig, describing it as “a tactical” move to “win back trust and diplomatic relations” with friends of South Sudan.
“We have gained trust and diplomatic relations as well as moral and political supports after pulling out troops from Panthou [Heglig]” the minister said, calling on the public to support the decision.
South Sudan’s alleged decision to withdraw from Heglig has faced internal opposition from major civil society organizations which have threatened to stage demonstrations against what they view as an unpopular decision.
Even some veterans of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) faulted the decision.
Lual Diing Wol, one of the SPLM’s founding members, told reporters at his residence in Juba on Wednesday that he would not have approved withdrawal of the troops from Panthou if he was consulted.
“I was not consulted because president knows I would have definitely not endorsed it. Our troops would have withdrawn only if the international peacekeeping troops from credible countries were deployed. In this way we would have no cases of Sudan using the area as string board to launch ground attacks on the positions of our civilian population in Unity State” said Wol