August 27, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan’s army general, Peter Gatdet Yak, has called for calm in the region after the death of his closest comrade in arms, Gen. Paulino Matip Nhial, who died of diabetes on August 22 last week after battling the illness for 17 years.
- A member of the SPLA plays a trombone in a pro independence march January 5, 2011 in Juba, Sudan (Getty)
Late Paulino Matip and Peter Gatdet hail from the same Bul-Nuer community of Mayom County in Unity state.
The two commanded a force of 51,000 combatants, mostly from Unity state, which they later integrated into the rank and file of the South Sudan’s army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), in 2006, when Gen. Matip signed the Juba Declaration with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir.
The Declaration brought together South Sudan’s two armies after decades of maintaining their separate entities controlling different geographical areas inside South Sudan; a move that weakened Khartoum’s military standing to control the region.
As a result of the unification of the two forces, Paulino Matip, who was a major general and head of his forces, was then promoted to the rank of Lt. General and appointed to the position of the deputy commander-in-chief of the SPLA in 2006; the second highest position in the army’s hierarchical arrangement, which he held for six years until his death last week.
Matip’s closest aide, Major General Peter Gatdet Yak, is said to command the loyalty from Matip’s forces after his death.
Unlike Matip, Gatdet has not stayed loyal to the Juba government since 2006 launching the Sudan South Liberation Army (SSLA) in April 2011 complaining of corruption and tribalism. In August that year Gatdet left the rebel group but failed to persuade all its soldiers to rejoined the SPLA. The SSLA rebellion, which Juba says is backed by Khartoum, continues with Mayom County in Unity State one of the worst affected areas.
After Matip’s death many South Sudanese and analysts have expressed anxiety about the fate his forces, which make up a significant portion of the South Sudan Army. With South Sudan just over a year old the country is struggling to transform its army from several armed groups loyal to specific political parties, communities or army commanders, to a professional non-partisan national army which can be free from tribalism.
During a funeral prayer on Sunday at his residence which was attended by nearly ten thousand people, Gen. Peter Gatdet, called on the people of South Sudan to remain calm, adding that it was God who took the life of the general and nobody was to blame for his death.
Gatdet further appreciated the mass turnout during the funeral occasion, saying it indicated that the general was a man of all the people of the ten states of South Sudan.
One of Matip’s elder sons, Kaang Paulino Matip, told the gathering that his family was appreciative of the government’s attempt to save his life by referring him to some of the best hospitals in the world over the years.
Kaang read the will of his father, which included his request to the government to transfer the ownership of his government’s residence to his family and legalize the ownership.
REMARKS FROM OFFICIALS
President Salva Kiir Mayardit in his remarks during the Sunday funeral described late Paulino Matip as somebody who kept to his promises on peace and unity.
Kiir said late Paulino Matip was his partner who reunited the people of South Sudan in the Juba Declaration in 2006. He narrated how he met Paulino Matip for the first time on August 10, 2005, only 10 days after he assumed the leadership of then to be formed government of South Sudan after the death of the late leader, John Garang de Mabior, on July 31, 2005.
He met Matip in Khartoum’s Republican Palace and talked peace and unity between the two forces which he said Matip accepted without any pre-conditions. He said Matip was very willing to join with him, adding that he even volunteered to give him confidential information about the affairs in Khartoum.
The SPLA’s commander-in-chief said his deputy, Matip, had kept his word.
South Sudan’s vice president, Riek Machar, urged the people of the new nation, particularly the family members, to move forward and leave behind the pain caused by the death of Paulino Matip. He said the man died peacefully from his illness without causing any violent havoc which avoided the bitter violent memories experienced in the past.
Machar called on the rebels from Mayom County in Unity state to come back and rejoin the government.
Bishop Paulino Lukudu in earlier occasion said Matip was a fighter and defender of the citizens of South Sudan wherever he found them including in Khartoum during the movement. He revealed that he reconciled Kiir and Matip, both Catholic Christians, in 2005 in Khartoum, saying late Matip did not hesitate to talk to Kiir about the unification of their forces when the Bishop approached him.
He said the nation has lost a great leader who united the people of South Sudan and had died a friend to everybody.
BIOGRAPHY OF GEN. PAULINO MATIP NHIAL NYAAK
He was born in 1942 in a place called Ngop in the present Mayom County in Unity state. Gen. Matip married to 47 wives and survived by 102 children; 55 are boys and 47 are girls. In 1973-1975 he served as a police sergeant in Wangkai and Mankien towns of Mayom County in Unity state. He joined Anya-nya II movement from 1976-1982 in Bilpam and was trained in Dire Dawa and Gondor towns in Ethiopia, after which he was commissioned as 2nd Lt. by the Anya-nya II movement.
After a disagreement in the formation of the SPLM/A involving his chairman, Gordon Koang Chol in 1983, Paulino Matip became the deputy chairman of the Anya-nya II under the chairmanship of Gordon Koang. Between 1987-1991 he became the chairman of Anya-nya II after Gen. Gordon Koang Chol rejoined the SPLM/A in 1988. In 1996 Gen. Matip joined the South Sudan Independence Movement/Army (SSIM/A).
In 1997 he formed his own organization called South Sudan United Movement (SSUM) and became its chairman and commander-in-chief. Between 2002 to 2004 he became the commander-in-chief of the South Sudan Defense Forces (SSDF); and in 2005 participated in the grand signing of the CPA in Nairobi, Kenya, and on his part led the South-South Dialogue with late Dr. John Garang de Mabior.
On January 8, 2006, he signed the famous Juba Declaration with the President of South Sudan, Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit. He was immediately promoted to the rank of Lt. General in the army and appointed the deputy commander-in-chief of the SPLA until his death on 22 August 2012.