Home | News    Wednesday 2 March 2011

South Sudan army clashes with renegade General Athor kills 92

February 28, 2011 (WAU) - At least 92 people are reported killed and 164 wounded in a renewed armed confrontation between forces belonging to the Sudan People’ Liberation Army (SPLA) and armed elements loyal to General George Athor Deng Dut on 27 February.

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George Athor Deng (ST)

The clash occurred two days after the president of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS), General Salva Kiir Mayardit, issued orders instructing SPLA forces to protect unarmed civilians against attacks by the renegade groups. He made the remark while addressing senior military officers and men at the SPLA General headquarters in Bilpam, at the outskirts of Juba town, on Friday.

Athor was one of the senior SPLA zonal commanders operating between three states of Greater Upper Nile during the over two decades long of civil war between the North and South which came to end following the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

The agreement allows the two parties to conduct census and hold elections during the interim period as a requirement to conduct referendum on self determination for the people of south Sudan at the end of the six year interim period.

Contesting gubernatorial race in the 2010 April General elections as an independent candidate, for Jonglei, following his failure to secure approval of his candidature by the SPLM Political Bureau, the highest political organ in the SPLM structure, armed individuals loyal to Athor at the SPLA base, close to his home county of Khorfulus in Doleib Hill, staged a protest resulting in the rebellion, after the National Elections Commission announced results in favour of the official nominee, incumbent Governor, Kuol Manyang Juuk. A move Athor initially denied when it occurred and described it as “an internal rebellion” within the south Sudan army.

Armed elements loyal to him have clashed several times with forces belonging to the SPLA since he rebelled, resulting in a number of deaths on both sides. However, South Sudan president General Salva Kiir Mayardit, in October issued a presidential order pardoning Athor and his forces. Additionally, the president issued another decree forming a high level committee compromising two bishops and armed generals to discuss ways forward, to end conflict in the area with General Athor.

The decree was meant to reconcile differences between officials in the SPLM led GoSS and other political leaders and factions, in order to pave the way for the successful conduct vote on self determination in January 2011. The decree also contained some reservations, demanding forces of General Athor to lay down their arms before joining SPLA - a demand Athor viewed would compromise the fate of the his armed elements and political allies and thus requested the President modify the amnesty, to give more protection to his armed elements and political supporters.

In January, GoSS signed a peace ceasefire with Athor as part of the recommendations made by the negotiating team. The pact recommends some places for forces of General Athor to use as transitory assembly points, while waiting for full integration into the SPLA. However, Dok James Puok, spokesman of General Athor on 9 and 10 February 2011 accused the SPLA of attacking their forces in different locations in the area. A charge, SPLA spokesman, Colonel Phillip Aguer was quick to deny and accused Athor of initiating the attack in which 211 people were killed in Fangak County on both sides.

The majority of the people killed were reportedly identified as innocent civilians and elderly people, prompting many senior officials in GoSS to advocate for military options as alternatives to ending rebellion.

On 25 February, President Salva Kiir Mayardit, in his address to the army in Juba called for protection of the civilians against attacks by the renegade groups. He accused Athor, Gatluak Gai and David Yauyau of turning down the amnesty he gave them and urged the SPLA to execute their mandate to protect civilians.

In Interview with Sudan Tribune on 28 February, Dok James Puok, Spokesman of the General Athor accused SPLA forces of having launched what he called a heavy attack on two of their bases in the area on 27 February.

"As I mentioned last time that SPLM/A has no capacity for running south Sudan affairs and instead of looking for peace and a full resolution of the conflict, SPLM declared war against our movement, deluding itself that we must be crushed within one month time, that is a big lie", said Puok.

"We will remain challenging the SPLM/A, and teach them a lesson that they will never forget. SPLM/A should learn from their experience when it was in the bush, if guerrillas can be crushed than SPLM/A could have been crashed", he said.

"I believe the only way to silence guns is through peace full settlement of the conflict, by addressing the root causes of the conflict and bridging the gap between the two conflicting groups. Because they are not committed and interested in bringing peace to our people, the SPLA forces on Sunday at 6.00am staged two attacks on our two bases in Alow and Patai, resulting in a number of their soldiers being killed", said Puok.

“They suffered heavy casualties in terms of human and weapons. 86 died and 147 were wounded and 90 weapons were captured on the SPLA side, referring to the SPLA and 90 different types of weapons were captured. On our side we lost 6 and 17 sustained injuries.” he continued.

Mijak Chol Banguot, a local administrative officer, in an interview with Sudan Tribune from Khorfulus, confirmed the attack to have taken place and called for the immediate intervention of GoSS to end armed confrontation in the area.

"Fighting broke out in Alow and Patai yesterday. We do not know who initiated the attack. We only saw soldiers calling for people to help take away those wounded from the area".

"We do not know how many were killed but I believe a lot of people may have been killed because the fighting took some time to stop", said Banguot.

He said President Kiir needs to stop these armed confrontation. "I have always asked people who are close or those able to meet president Kiir to advise him to find ways to end this confrontation because I do not think armed confrontation can bring solution".

"We were happy with the way he started the process because it is said in our Dinka language that Mac ace yor manyda - meaning fire cannot be distinguished with another fire. Therefore, there will never be a military solution only a peaceful negotiation will bring peace. We need the president to try this with interest and full commitments so that innocent people do not become part of the clashes", appealed Banguot.

Colonel Phillip Aguer, spokesman of the SPLA, confirmed the clash and said he had not received full details of the clash from the chain of command on the ground. "Yes, there was a clash yesterday. I am told our forces clashed with forces of General Athor but I still do not have the full details. We are still waiting for more details. Maybe I will give you more details tomorrow", said Colonel Aguer. The military officer said the two armed groups clashed during reconnaissance. "I am told they clashed with those who went for reconnaissance", he said.