JUBA – A senior South Sudan main armed opposition commander allied to First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar Teny on Sunday passed on in the South Sudanese capital Juba, several sources and activists close to him and the family said.
General John Gatgach Nhial Diet, who was once an operation commander in Unity State for the SPLA under late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, died after suffering from undisclosed illness.
“This is to confirm that social media reports regarding the passing on of General John Gatgach Nhial are authentic and he passed away in Juba while he was on treatment,” a close friend to General Gatwech’s family said on phone.
Another source who also requested not to be named said the opposition commander was flown to the Sudanese capital Khartoum two years ago before being returned to Juba following treatment in Sudan.
“He has an eye issue and that is why two years ago he was taken for treatment in the capital of Sudan Khartoum and when he was returned, he was improving and responding to medication positively,” the source said.
Following South Sudan’s independence, General Gatgach became a senior army general at Bilpam.
He took up arms against the government of President Salva Kiir Mayardit in December 2013 to become one of the founders of the main armed opposition SPLM/SPLA-IO following outbreak of violence that resulted in the killing of thousands of Nuer civilians by state-allied militia.
Several South Sudanese citizens have expressed their condolences on the demise of General Gatgach with many hailing him as ‘hero’ for his role in the liberation struggle that earned South Sudan independence in 2011.
In a statement, the Leek Community Association said the opposition commander “lived his life as a symbol of hope and unity among the people in our country.”
Gatter Puok, one of the highly respected community members in Juba said General Gatgach’s demise will “remain painful to all of us”, and said the community “will follow the foot step of your legacy.”
General Gatgach hails from Unity State’s Rubkona County of Leek community and joined the liberation struggle against the Khartoum-based Sudanese regimes in 1960s.