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

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora