On Saturday evening, 27th of Sept 1992 at around 1500hrs a company of SPLA soldiers under the command of Commander Obutu Mamur Mete laid an ambush north of Opari at the road junction leading to Ame. The target was a convoy of Hino trucks carrying eighty-five soldiers from SPLA HQs of then Deputy Commander-in-Chief William Nyuon in Pageri heading to Magwi.
Earlier that day, Commander William Nyuon Bany, who was then the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the SPLA and Deputy Chairman of the SPLM, had declared his defection from the SPLA. He vacated his HQs and all the equipments he could carry, and drove out of town.
Around 1700hrs as the convoy approached the junction, the SPLA soldiers waiting in ambush opened fire. A fierce battle took place but the attackers had to withdraw after Nyuon sent reinforcements from Opari to the scene of fighting. At the end of it two NGO workers were dead and two were missing later found dead by SPLA after their car was caught in the cross fire.
The following day, Commander Salva Kiir Mayardit was elevated from Chief of Staff to the now vacant position of Deputy Commander-in-Chief and Deputy Chairman and placed in charge of operations around Torit. Fierce fighting ensued soon and Nyuon had to withdraw nine kilometres outside Magwi.
William Nyuon’s defection came about after he was given money to defect by Khartoum according to Douglas Johnson (see Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil War, page 120). Khartoum began to woo Nyuon first during negotiations to present a united Southern Sudan front in May 1992 for peace negotiations. The negotiations were eventually sabotaged by Commander Elijah Malok Aleng, Commander Dr. Justin Yac Arop, Commander Dr. Riek Gai Kok and Commander Deng Alor Kuol after Nyuon signed a joint declaration with Dr. Lam Akol whilst not authorised to do so. Dr. John Garang stood by them after they also found out that Nyuon had been offered money and held talks with other delegations without the knowledge of other SPLA/M delegates (see Elijah Malok’s: The Southern Sudan: Struggle for Liberty).
A little over a year later Nyuon defected and by October 1993 Nyuon’s force had been decimated and was forced to withdraw to Lafon. He joined forces with Riek Machar and Lam Akol who had attempted a coup on 28th of August 1991 in Nasir unleashing a devastating internal ethnic civil war in the SPLA/M. More back and forth fighting ensued for the rest of the year with many villages exchanging hands exacting a heavy toll on civilians. By January 1993, Obutu Mamur and Commander Pieng Deng Kuol had cleared Lafon and Nyuon was forced to flee to Liria. However he recaptured it back by March with help of Khartoum forces.
This vicious cycle continued throughout 1993 and much of 1994 with these areas exchanging hands numerous times. Nyuon during his defection had broken into SPLA prisons and freed long term political prisoners, Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, Arok Thon Arok and other junior and middle ranking officers in September 1993. Nevertheless, political differences and rivalries soon emerged among themselves.
In addition, Nyuon’s junior officers were uneasy with collaboration and support provided by the Government of Sudan through Riek. His troops were disenchanted especially when they learnt a civil war was raging among the Nuers in Upper Nile Region. On the 31st of March 1995, his forces attacked a convoy of Sudan Armed Forces and the junior officers persuaded Commander Nyuon to rejoin the SPLA. Contact was made personally with Commander Salva Kiir who then contacted Commander Dr. John Garang.
On the 27th of April 1995 a joint declaration “The Lafon Declaration” was made confirming William Nyuon’s return to the SPLA/M. Few weeks later, in tears, contrite and somber, he apologised for his actions saying that he was humbled and surprised he had been welcomed back with open arms. He expressed gratitude that Commander Salva had given up his position as the Deputy to accommodate him.
Commander William Nyuon Bany went on to prosecute the war on behalf of the SPLA/M with renewed vigour and brutality unmatched. He was killed by Riek Machar’s forces on the night of the 13th of January 1996 in Gul located between Ayod and Waat in present day Jonglei State.