Sudan - A resurgence of internal armed opposition in southern Sudan
illustrates that the birth of this new independent nation, scheduled for
9 July, will be marked not only by celebrations of long-fought
liberation from the North, but also by anxiety about the government’s
ability to maintain peace and stability across a vast and ethnically
Claims of rebel unity feed this
anxiety. The most prominent man now fighting the southern army (SPLA),
George Athor, a former SPLA general, who broke away after claiming fraud
in April 2010 gubernatorial elections, recently announced that five
opposition forces active in several states had forged a united front
against the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
objective is realization of democracy in the new country of south
Sudan,” Athor said by satellite phone from his undisclosed hideout in
“We must ensure that all southern Sudanese
are equal irrespective of tribe,” Athor said, arguing that there is “no
equality among southerners” under the rule of the SPLM, which is
dominated by the Dinka, the region’s largest ethnic group.
spokesman Col Philip Aguer dismissed Athor’s unity claim, insisting
that all the various opposition forces scattered across the south had in
common was support from Khartoum. Aside from a few documents of dubious
authenticity, no hard evidence has emerged to support this allegation,
made repeatedly since rebellions escalated after the elections last
year, and then again after a lull surrounding January’s secession
Over recent weeks hundreds have been
killed in the violence, which echoes the internal conflicts that raged
during the south’s decades-long armed rebellion against the North. That
larger civil war ended with the 2005 signing of a Comprehensive Peace
“Current reports indicate that more
than 10 conflict incidents relating to militia groups occurred in
March,” said Giovanni Bosco, head of the UN Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Juba, the southern capital.
He added that almost 16,000 people had been newly displaced in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states as a result.
recent increase in the intensity and scope of violence in parts of the
south is worrying. Even more worrying is the impact of fighting on
civilians, including on the high number of returnees [from the north]
present in some of the affected areas,” said Bosco, noting that the
fighting - and related relocation of five NGOs in Jonglei - limited the
humanitarian response and risked disrupting the current start of the
“Of additional concern are reports of
newly laid land-mines, which pose a threat to the security of civilians
and jeopardize the agricultural season,” he said.
UN has also warned that more than 10,000 civilians displaced by clashes
between the SPLA and Athor’s group in Jonglei were “in a dire state with
serious shortages of food, water and medicine… a number of elderly
people have died” while fleeing to places of sanctuary set up by local
“This is not what we expected,” said
Philip Aguer (not related to the SPLA spokesman), a former SPLA child
soldier whose father died in the civil war. “We are disappointed with
what we are now experiencing,” he said, referring to the army’s alleged
“mistreatment of innocent people” in its counter-insurgency operations.
Inclusive leadership needed
analysts have underlined how important it is for all citizens to trust
the government of the soon-to-be independent state to represent their
“South Sudan [as the new country will
officially be named] will need to demonstrate that it belongs to all
south Sudanese; that it does not belong to any ethnic, religious or
political group,” Jok Madut Jok, an academic specializing in conflict
analysis, who now serves as Minister of Culture, said in a 25 March
speech at the University of Juba.
Civil society groups
have criticized Salva Kiir, President of the Government of southern
Sudan (GoSS), for failing - beyond offering amnesty to various rebel
leaders if they disarmed - to significantly make good on public promises
in the referendum’s run-up to accommodate his political and military
On 17 March, the Carter Center issued a
statement urging the SPLM to be more inclusive in the transition to
independence and criticizing the party for its “dominance over all
decisions” and its prevention of “meaningful participation from
For Zach Vertin, an analyst with
the International Crisis Group, “Managing diversity and building a
common national identity in the new south will not be easy, particularly
in a still-militarized environment. How the GoSS and the SPLA handle
these latest rebellions may set the tone for the post-independence
period, as relationships are redefined between state and non-state
actors,” he told IRIN.
“A forceful response [to armed
opposition] on its own is unlikely to yield solutions, particularly
where local communities, ethnic tensions, and legitimate grievances are
mixed in. Southern leadership should open political space and articulate
a strategy to address genuine grievances so as to consolidate its
legitimacy among the public more broadly. Otherwise, these may not be
the last of the rebellions," he warned.
Ali Verjee, a
senior researcher with the Rift Valley Institute, told IRIN: “The
violence has demonstrated that the currents of discontent within both
the SPLM and SPLA are far from resolved, and have a growing constituency
of support, which may grow further still.
causes of the violence are complex, it's worth noting at least two
holdovers from the CPA: a continuing failure to successfully integrate
other armed forces into the SPLA and dissatisfaction with the flawed
2010 elections, which collectively opened more wounds than they healed.
patterns of behaviour that have so far defined the approach to military
integration and political competition, if sustained, will not end
southern Sudan's instability,” he warned.