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Hopes for Peaceful Referendum as Southern Sudan Signs Ceasefire With Athor’s Militia

The army of southern Sudan Wednesday signed a ceasefire agreement with the militia loyal to renegade General George Athor. The hope is that the agreement will reduce the threat of violence interrupting the referendum in Athor’s base of Jonglei State. However, Athor himself was not present at the signing ceremony, raising questions about how effective the ceasefire will actually be.

Athor, a former senior officer in the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) took up arms against the authorities of the semi-autonomous southern Sudan following allegations of fraud and rigging during gubernatorial elections in Jonglei State last April.

Senior SPLA officer Michael Majur spoke on behalf of the army, and offered words of praise for Athor for his role in reaching the ceasefire.

“I am really very grateful about George Athor for his tireless effort to make this ceasefire agreement to be a success, without his tireless effort we would not have reached this agreement,” he said. “And I would like to thank him wherever he is right now and we wish in the coming few days we will be together and shall be doing the rest of work that is ahead of us, because we have a lot of work to do.”

Athor is currently believed to be holed up in remote Jonglei state.

Kual Manyang Juuk, who defeated Athor to become governor of Jonglei State, told VOA that he does not know whether the ceasefire will hold.

“I have not been in contact with George Athor because I don’t even know where he is and I don’t even have his telephone and he has not even called me,” he said.

Listen to John Tanza's full interview with Kual Manyang Juuk

Abraham Thon Chon, a senior member of Athor’s militia, signed the ceasefire agreement on Athor’s behalf, assuring attendees that the agreement represented a true reconciliation.

“We want to assure the people in the world, that we are responsible to take this task to solve our own problems, to establish peace in south Sudan,” he said. “We want to assure the population, the citizens of southern Sudan because we are one army under the leadership of Salva Kiir Mayardit.”

Athor’s forces have killed scores of SPLA troops since he rebelled against the south's government and displaced hundreds of civilians. He recently accused senior government leaders from his region of hindering efforts to reconcile with southern Sudanese authorities before the referendum.

Salva Kiir, president of the government of southern Sudan, offered in October to pardon Athor, and both sides had agreed to keep out of each other's way until negotiations were concluded. Two weeks ago, the southern army accused Athor's forces of laying an ambush for them that killed 20 soldiers and wounded 50 others.

Additional reporting by John Tanza