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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid