20 killed in fresh armed clashes with Athor's rebels in South Sudan

By Ngor Arol Garang

February 9, 2010 (KHARTOUM) - At least 20 people have been confirmed dead and several others wounded in what appears to be renewed military confrontation between forces belonging to the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and armed groups loyal to General George Athor Deng Dut in Jonglei State.

George Athor is the former Sudan People' Liberation Movement (SPLM) member who rebelled against the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) after losing the gubernatorial race for Jonglei in the 2010 April election, accusing officials from the SPLM of rigging election results in favour of his main rival, the incumbent Governor Kuol Manyang Juuk.

His forces clashed several times with SPLA forces in territories adjacent to his base in Khorflous, located in the far north west of the Jonglei capital, Bor. Media reports since his rebellion began indicate that over 50 people on both sides have been killed. Civilians in his territory have also experienced restricted movement.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit, following the public call for peace and stability in the region for last month's independence vote, issued an order in October 2010, pardoning General Athor and his forces. The decree was also extended to three other armed militia leaders including General Gabriel Tanyinka.

The amnesty was conditional on rebel forces laying down their arms prior to joining the SPLA - a demand Athor said the president needs to modify to cover integration of his forces and political supporters.

Speaking to Sudan Tribune on Wednesday from his base in Khorfoulus, the rebel commander said southern sudan army attcked his fighters in different locations in Jonglei state.

"The SPLA forces launched an attack on three of our operational outposts today in Koliet, Kolnyang and Fangak. They attack us at exactly 10.00am in Koliet and Door and about 11.00am in Fangak", Athor told Sudan Tribune by a telephone from his base.

The rebel leader accused internal affairs minister in the government of south Sudan, Gier Chuang and Jonglei State Governor Kuol of organising the attacks through Ayod county commissioner and the minister law enforcement.

"These attacks were launched by Ayod County commissioner Thoi Ruai Chany and Jonglei state minister of law enforcement Gabriel Duop Lam under instructions of internal affairs minister in the government of south Sudan Gier Chuang Aluong and Jonglei State governor Kuol Manyang", said Athor.

Dok James Puok, spokesman of General Athor, also in an interview with Sudan Tribune from the regional capital of Juba confirmed the clash.

"The SPLA forces attacked our forces today in three different places resulting into lost of lives on both sides. They attacked our forces in Koliet, Kolnyang and Door but they were repulsed and our forces and took Fangak from them and gained control of these places and many other operational outposts they attacked today... The SPLA forces in Fangak also launched an attack on our positions but were repulsed and we followed. Our forces captured Fangak chased them to Tunja. Fangak is now control of our forces", he said.

He said three soldiers loyal to Athor were killed and was still waiting for reports from other places.

The spokesman of the rebel group described the clash as one of the heaviest attacks "because it witnessed the use of heavy artilleries mounted on army trucks and other heavy weapons "they had encountered but claimed their forces had captured five wounded soldiers and a "pick up vehicle was captured and another was destroyed."

He said the captured soldiers "confessed that 17 of their colleagues were killed during the attack".

Puok said their accusations implicating Jongeli Governor Kuol and Minister Gier were confirmed by the captives. "We have said several times said that we are committed to peace but our efforts and commitment to peaceful settlements are being backtracked and frustrated by continuous activities by minister Gier Chuang and Jonglei State Governor Kuol. They do not need peace and stability in Jonglei and in the whole of South Sudan".

"They are the ones who organised these attacks through Ayod County commissioner Thoi Ruai Chany and Jonglei State minister law enforcement, Gabriel Duop Lam today", said Puok.

Colonel Phillip Aguer Panyang, spokesman of the SPLA in a separate interview with Sudan Tribune denied that SPLA forces attacked General Athor, claiming that it was Athor who launched an attack on SPLA forces.

"It was unfortunate that General Athor attacked our forces in clear violation of the ceasefire today. They attacked Fangak which has no SPLA forces. There were only about three or four policemen in the area during the attack", said Panyang, claiming SPLA forces were delivering food rations to Athor's troops, in accordance with the ceasefire agreement. "How can we attack them and we are aware of the ceasefire?" he asked

Chol Atem, a member of the SPLM in an interview with Sudan Tribune from Juba, condemned the attack and accused Athor of creating instability in the area for own interests.

"Athor is a power hungry person and must stop lying to the media, saying that he was attacked by the SPLA. This is not true. It is false.

"In the fact the media who talks to him are the ones portraying him as a rebel, he is not a rebel. He is a just a disgruntled, selfish and power hunger person. Who does not know him? Tell me who does not know George Athor?" Atem asked.