News / Africa

South Sudan Rebel Groups Unite

Five Southern Sudanese rebel groups have joined forces under the leadership of General George Athor to fight against a southern government they say is brually suppressing minority rights.

Alan Boswell

After weeks of scattered clashes that left hundreds dead, rebel militias in southern Sudan have united in a new armed movement against the young southern government, raising the prospect of civil war even before South Sudan declares independence in July.

"We have formed a new group. It is called the Southern Sudan Democratic Movement. We are calling the army the Southern Sudan Army," said renegade general George Athor, who is heading the rebel command, speaking earlier this week by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.

The new coalition formally brings together five different armed militias spanning four of South Sudan's ten states, said the rebel leader. General Bapiny Monituel, who leads one of the five factions and whose forces have clashed heavily with the southern military in the past days, confirmed the emergence of the umbrella movement under Athor during an interview with VOA, in the northern capital Khartoum.

The formation of the new rebel coalition confirms fears that the spreading patchwork of miniature insurgencies would coalesce under a single coordinated campaign against the southern military, posing an existential threat to the world's newest nation before it even officially comes on the scene.

The United States and other western countries had pushed hard for southern Sudan's January referendum on independence to proceed as promised, hoping the nation's partition would bring a final chapter to decades of war that has left southern Sudan one of the least developed places in the world, with two million dead.

Now it appears that the U.S.-backed peace process may succeed in ending the south's longstanding war against Sudan's northern government, but in the process will spin off an extremely fragile state wrought with violent internal divisions of its own.

The real strength of the new rebellion is still not known, but momentum is on its side. Defections from within the southern military are increasing almost daily, and the militias are gaining manpower on the ground as a series of messy military offensives by the southern army - the Sudan People's Liberation Army - has failed to deal a decisive blow.

So far, the southern government's main response to the rebellion has been to accuse the northern government of arming the dissidents, just like old times.

"This (new rebel movement) will not be a new thing for us because we already know that they are being coordinated by the military intelligence in Khartoum," said Philip Aguer, the SPLA spokesman. Athor called these accusations of northern support "big lies." Monituel also dismissed the claim, saying he only has enough guns for 3000 of his 5000 men and lacks even a vehicle on the ground.

Earlier this month, senior southern cabinet member Pagan Amum released internal northern military documents alleging that Athor was receiving arms from the north last year. But a number of independent experts have dismissed the documents as poor forgeries.

The disparate renegade commanders have many differences, but they seem united by a list of local and tribal grievances about the current southern leadership. These grievances date back to the previous war, when the SPLA - then the main southern group fighting against the northern government - fractured largely along tribal lines.

Then, the splinter commanders formed competing movements, but most ended up covertly aligning with the northern government to receive arms to fight the main SPLA force. In exchange, the breakaway factions helped clear their area for oil exploration.

After the 2005 peace deal between the SPLA and the northern government, which established regional self-rule leading up to this year's referendum, many chose to reintegrate into the SPLA, but others chose to join the northern military instead.

Monituel was one of the latter.

"It's better to be with the north than (with) a Dinka, because I know we cannot stay together with Dinka men for more than five days," he gave as an explanation for his decision at his home on the outskirts Khartoum, where his six years on a general's salary could explain the new shiny Hummer parked outside.

His comments underscored the deep tribal bitterness fueling the individual power plays.

Monituel is a Nuer, Nilotic rivals closely related to the Dinka, southern Sudan's dominant ethnic group. The Nuer comprised the majority of the breakaway fighters during the war, but many have since reconciled with the SPLA, whose founder and current leader is a Dinka.

Athor, a Dinka, lives on Nuer land, and most of his fighters are Nuer. Two other factions in the new rebel movement are from other marginalized tribal minorities, the Shilluk and the Murle.

According to James Kuong Ninrew, a Presbyterian pastor who heads the Nuer Peace Council, which works on conflict resolution and reconciliation, the rebellions do not currently have the broad support of community leaders on the ground, but he warned that the heavy-handed response risks worsening the situation.

"If they (the SPLA) don't handle this well, it will end up as tribal kind of clashes. And once it becomes tribal, people will join without knowing exactly what's the cause," said Ninrew.

He blamed the SPLA for failing to seriously pursue peaceful integration of the militias into the army.

"They (the SPLA) are not ready to absorb all of them," said Ninrew.

Athor - a former deputy chief of staff of the SPLA who rebelled after losing a gubernatorial race late last year, and who is believed to maintain strong connections and some inside support from within the SPLA - said he is ready to talk with the government.

"We are willing to negotiate very much, but I don't think they will accept. The SPLA only knows the sound of bullets," said Athor.

His demands include inclusion in the new constitutional review, representation in an interim government until new elections can be held, and integration of his forces into the SPLA.

Monituel said he sent his troops south in order to integrate into the SPLA, but now he is not interested after the SPLA instead attacked his positions. In the three days of ensuing fighting, the SPLA is believed to have suffered heavy losses, and his men held their ground.

Now, the emboldened warlord says he is preparing for war.

"They wanted to attack us. Now there is no solution except fighting," he said.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More