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Sudan Tribune

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Demise of George Athor huge blow to South Sudan rebellion

Steve Paterno

December 22, 2011 — The leader of one of themajor South Sudan rebel groups, Lieutenant General George Athorturned up dead, hundreds of miles away from his remote rebel base. Inapparent shootout at the border county of Morobo in Central EquatoriaState, the rebel leader is gunned down by the South Sudanese armedforces.

Gen. Athor has been adecorated fighter with the SPLM/A during the last South-NorthSudanese civil war. With the 2005 peace agreement, he rose into therank of a lieutenant general and subsequently promoted to theposition of deputy chief of staff. However, in 2010 Sudanese generalelections, Gen. Athor resigned from his military post and decided tocontest for gubernatorial position in Jonglei State.

After the announcement ofthe elections results, Gen. Athor disputed the outcome, having beendeclared the loser. He then went on launching a rebel movement,vowing to fight against and topple a “tribal corrupt government inJuba.” Among his demands for peaceful resolution is an immediatedissolution of the government of Jonglei State, which he believes isillegal. None of the efforts in trying to pursue peace with himpanned out, including a repeated amnesty extended to him by the SouthSudan government.

Being the highest rankingmilitary personnel to have ever rebelled and with his militaryexperience, Gen. Athor has been trying so hard to assert himself asthe defacto leader of the several rebel groups, operating in SouthSudan. Unfortunately, Gen. Athor’s efforts of trying to consolidateall the rebel groups have been in vain, as there are many factorsworking against him.

First, all the rebel groupsin South Sudan came about as a result of local disputes andconflicts. Even though all of them claim to be fighting thegovernment of South Sudan, they have little in common with oneanother, due to their origins being very much local.

Second, since theserebellions have local origins; local and ethnic loyalties becometheir driving forces for support. Therefore, Gen. Athor who is froman ethnic Dinka, has thus far failed to gain any support beyond hishome county of Pigi in Jonglei State. He was not even able to connectwith the well equipped and well armed Nuer group from Unity State.

Third, the regime inKhartoum, which is the sponsor of all these rebel groups sees that itis in its best interest to keep these rebels apart, so as the regimecan exert greater influence over them, individually. Although theregime in Khartoum offers assistance to Gen. Athor, it does not inanyway willing to support his ambition of consolidating all the rebelgroups under his command.

Fourth, Gen. Athor rebelheadquarters is located in strategically bad place. He is basicallysurrounded by his enemies. Access from and to his stronghold isvirtually impassable. This does not just denied him access forpotential recruits, but also blocked him supply and escape routes.

Fifth, the South Sudaneserebels in general lack popular political support. This is largely inpart due to strong local affinity of the rebel groups. Importantpolitical figures also refuse to support the rebellions. PeterAbdulrahman Sule, a leader of United Democratic Front (UDF) recentlymade a futile attempt in trying to add credence into the momentum ofthe rebellion by launching his rebel group in Central EquatoriaState. Sule’s addition into rebel ranks would have casted a differentface into the rebel movements, given his political experience andethnic background. However, the militarily inexperience rebel wannabewas roughed up by the authorities in Juba just right before his planscould materialize. Now he is languishing in jail for his crime. Thepossibilities for the rebels to gain political popularity withinSouth Sudan is very slim at the moment.

It is therefore no anywonder that Gen. Athor would have to travel far from his base insearch for support, given all these factors working against him. WithGen. Athor ultimate demise, the hope for rebels unity is dealt agreat blow as there is no one with his stature and ambition to followup in his failed attempts. Even though the rebel activities willcontinue, they will remain scattered and localized groups. Those inUnity State will likely continue to dominate the rebel fields,because they have strategic access for support from North and willmaintain their loyalties among themselves to forge on. Nonetheless,Gen. Athor’s forces must come to an end as the government of SouthSudan needs to take advantage of the situation by mounting bothpolitical and military pressure against the group.