August 10, 2010 (BOR/KHARTOUM) — South Sudan said it has impounded a Khartoum-destined cargo helicopter carrying men loyal to George Athor, the man behind a rebellion against the government of the semi-autonomous region. The ruling party in southern Sudan, SPLM, accused "quarters in northern Sudan of supporting the renegade general in order to destabilize the south".
However, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in the north has rejected the SPLM’s claims, dismissing them as "false accusations" whose aim is to "run away from the reality of the unstable security situation in the south."
North and South Sudan fought a civil war for two decades. The war ended when the SPLM and the NCP signed a peace deal dubbed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, giving the mainly Christian-animist south autonomous role from the Muslim-dominated north and promises of a referendum on independence due in January 2011.
The SPLM’s Secretary-General, Pagan Amum, told reporters in a press conference in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, on Tuesday that the South Sudan army, SPLA, on 8 August captured the helicopter after it landed in Fulug county airport, Upper Nile State, on its way back from Athor’s strongholds in the Fangak area.
The former independent election candidate George Athor staged a rebellion against south Sudan’s government last April after he lost gubernatorial elections in Jonglei State to the SPLM’s candidate Kuol Manyang Juuk. General Athor refused to concede defeat and claimed vote rigging. Athor had served with the SPLA during two decades of civil war and was promoted to be the SPLA’s deputy Chief of General Staff for Moral Orientation after the signing of the CPA in 2005.
"After landing in Fulug, SPLA forces raided the helicopter to find a group of Athor’s loyalists, including the third-in-command of his group, on their way back to Khartoum” said Amum, adding that "all men were arrested along with the helicopter’s crew".
Intelligence sources in Jonglei state, speaking on condition of anonymity to Sudan Tribune, said that "the former commissioner of Pigi county, James Yhor, and other senior Athor’s military men were the ones found in the helicopter". The sources further added that the detained rebels were wounded and heading for hospital in northern Sudan to receive medical treatment.
Amum has also declared that south Sudan will launch a probe into the case, considering it as "a serious development indicating that some quarters in Khartoum were supporting Athor in order to undermine security and stability in the south and obstruct the referendum".
News of capturing the helicopter by the SPLA was first reported by the subtly pro-government Alray Alamm newspaper on 9 August. The paper, which said that the helicopter belongs to Sudanair, Sudan’s national airlines company, quoted "a high-ranking source" as saying that the helicopter was "chartered by Fangak Aid Organization to transport aid materials".
For its part, the NCP’s official spokesman, Fathi Shillah, accused Pagan Amum of "launching hollow and false accusations" against the NCP in order to "run away from the reality of security instability in the south".
In statements published by the state-run Sudan Media Center last night, Shillah demanded that the SPLM intervenes and releases the helicopter and make an apology for the SPLA’s actions.
He reiterated that the NCP respects the existing partnership with the SPLM alongside its commitment to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.