Defeated candidate and southern Sudan army general George Athor, accused of leading attacks last week that left eight South Sudan soldiers dead, announced this week that a group of soldiers were under his personal command and demanded that the newly elected Jonglei state governor – the candidate he ran against – step down. These latest developments, as well as rumors that Athor was joined by two other southern army generals, are worrisome trends for a region where security has been undermined by ethnic tensions, the wide proliferation of arms, and a disorganized army of soldiers whose loyalties often lie more with individual commanders than the institution itself.
The southern army, or SPLA, accused Athor of launching an attack on an army base near Malakal last Friday, saying he was motivated to retaliate for his failed electoral bid. According to one army spokesperson, the five attackers who were captured said that they were working under the defeated candidate’s orders. Athor denied these charges, saying that the soldiers had actually mutinied against orders to capture him.
“I did not order any attack anywhere and I had never held any meeting with anybody to consider launching attack on military forces,” the general told the Sudan Tribune.
Athor, who ran as an independent candidate for the Jonglei governor seat, lost by a large margin to incumbent governor and southern ruling party candidate Kuol Manyang; he received about 27.1 percent of the vote, in contrast to Manyang’s 66.2 percent. Many independent candidates, Athor included, accused the ruling SPLM of rigging the vote. Independents won only one out of the 10 governor seats.
Athor told Reuters that he, along with a number of soldiers, had moved to a location near the border of Jonglei and neighboring Upper Nile state. He warned that he would militarily respond to any provocations from the SPLA. "If I am provoked I can attack anywhere … I have enough forces that can capture Malakal [the capital of Upper Nile state], Bor [the capital of Jonglei state], or anywhere,” he said.
Athor also made some demands: the removal of Governor Manyang from his office, as well as amnesty for the soldiers that joined him. Athor claims he does not want to take the governor seat; he just wants Manyang removed. Whether the renegade general will use force to respond to unmet demands is an open question. The SPLA reportedly does not believe he has enough military strength to carry out his threats.
At this tense moment, rumors are flying as to which, if any, generals are joining this fledgling rebellion. One Sudan Tribune article reported that Brigadier General John Jok Gai, based in Western Bahr el Ghazal state, has joined Athor. A second article claimed that an unnamed brigadier general, based in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, had recently left his base with over a thousand soldiers for an unknown destination. This general is reportedly loyal to another disgruntled independent candidate.
The potential for post-electoral tensions to break out into violence still looms large. To learn more about post-election flashpoints, check out this recent South Sudan field dispatch, and stay tuned for more news as this story unfolds.
Photo: SPLA soldiers marching in Abyei (IRIN)