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

Obama Pledges 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Burials

Country is improving at rapid response to remote, isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace Christmas precisely because of its non-religious glamor and commercial appeal 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid