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South Sudan’s Machar confirms Bor ‘apology’, calls for wider reconciliation

August 28, 2011 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s Vice President, Riek Machar, has confirmed that he apologized earlier this month for killings that took place nearly two decades ago, while he led a splinter group from southern rebels fighting Khartoum.

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John Garang (left) the late SPLM leader reconciles with Riek Machar (Right) in 2002. (New Sudan Foundation)

Machar reportedly made the apology on August 9 to the Dinka Bor community over what became known as the ’Bor massacre’ in 1992.

At a church service on Sunday in South Sudan’s capital, Machar confirmed that he had made the apology, calling upon all the communities in the newborn nation to reconcile and live in peace and harmony.

Nine years into Sudan’s North-South civil war Machar led a breakaway faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in an attempt to wrestle power away from its chairman John Garang.

Machar and other senior members of the SPLM, including Lam Akol objected to Garang’s style of running the rebel movement and wanted a change in the SPLM’s strategy.

Machar’s 1991 Nasir Declaration called for the right of self-determination for the Southerners to be the SPLM’s main objective.

In 2005, after Machar had rejoined the SPLM, a peace deal was signed with Khartoum according South Sudan the right to secede through a referendum, an option overwhelmingly accepted earlier this year.

Up until his death in July 2005, days after becoming Sudan’s First Vice President and the President of the autonomous region of South Sudan, Garang remained publicly committed to a vision of a democratic, pluralistic, federal, secular and united "New Sudan".

Garang’s predecessor Salva Kiir appointed Machar as Vice President of South Sudan in August 2005, a position he has retained ever since.

In 1991, such a scenario seemed improbable at best when Machar’s attempt at a bloodless coup failed to garner the necessary support to dethrone Garang as the head of the rebel movement.

Despite appealing to all members of the SPLM, Machar only managed to win the support of a handful of commanders, the majority of whom hailed from his own Nuer tribe, with some notable exceptions.

In 1992 a combined force of armed Nuer civilians and soldiers of Machar’s Nasir faction attacked Garang’s hometown of Bor in Jonglei state. The offensive against mainly defenseless members of Garang’s Dinka tribe resulted in the death or maiming of hundreds if not thousands of people and the displacement of tens of thousands more.

A large area from Duk Padiet, far in the north of the area through to Cuei-keer was attacked and cattle stolen. The ferocity and alleged tribal element of the attack created a fault-line in South Sudan politics between the Dinka and Nuer that has yet to be fully bridged.

Ever since the ’Bor massacre’, Machar has been a controversial figure in South Sudan. Garang at the time described him as a traitor and blamed him for the SPLM’s failure to take Juba from the government, as forces had to be diverted to fight the Nasir faction.

Machar has since denied that he condoned the way his forces and their associates acted in the infamous incident but for even after he rejoined the SPLM in 2002, he has stopped short of apologising.

News about Machar’s apology to the Dinka Bor community surfaced earlier this month but was unconfirmed until today. The apology took place at the residence of Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior, the widow of the late leader John Garang, in the presence of the Dinka Bor’s political leaders and elders.

Machar chose a church service on Sunday 28 August, 20 years to the day since ’the split in the SPLM was announced over radio across South Sudan from the far east corner of Jonglei state in 1991, to publicly confirm he made the apology.

Addressing the Nuer congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Juba, Machar said that it was a right thing to do. He said that he had made the apology after being invited to a gathering of the Dinka Bor community in memory of the SPLM’s founder John Garang.

Opinion among the Nuer community appears split over the apology.

Some said the move was a courageous effort towards reconciliation, while others criticised the Vice President, saying the apology was premature and should have been reciprocated on the side of the Dinka Bor community for other incidents during the civil war.

There has even been unfounded speculation that the apology might be used as evidence of confessing a crime and that he may be brought before an international tribunal.

Machar said that when he gave the apology he took the opportunity to explain to the Dinka Bor community the differences in the movement that necessitated the split; his call for the right of self-determination of the people of South Sudan; the need to democratise the movement; respect for human rights – issues he said were not articulated before 1991.

As part of his 2002 reconciliation with Garang, the right of self-determination for the people of South Sudan was adopted and became a crucial part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which in July resulted in South Sudan’s independence.

The Vice President also said he had told the Dinka Bor community at the democratisation of the SPLM and respect for human rights remain a challenge that should be addressed. He said there was a need to change from the mentality of the past during which people were arrested, tortured, extra judicially killed at will and their property confiscated.

Machar said he acknowledged that many groups including his own Nuer community suffered in the hands of other South Sudanese during the 22 year liberation that begun in 1983 . He said that if the Dinka Bor community has not yet forgiven the Nuer and his forces then it was right to apologise to them seek reconciliation so that all communities in the new nation move forward together in peace and harmony.

“I told the Dinka Bor community that I was responsible for both the good things and the bad things that came as a result of the Nasir Declaration, because I was its leader and that people should no longer hold grudges against others such as Lam Akol because of the split,” Machar further explained.

“I used the English word ‘apology’ to them,” he further clarified.

Machar added that any concerns about the legal implications of his apology are baseless, saying he understood what he was doing.

On the formation of independent South Sudan’s first cabinet, Machar said he had already received complaints from communities, including his own community of Unity state that they have not received any federal ministerial position in the new cabinet.

However, Machar said the President and South Sudan’s ten states governors, in accordance with the transitional constitution signed into law on 9 July, have the constitutional right to appoint anyone to their cabinets, even if such people come from the same constituency.

The Vice President appealed to the Nuer community to accept his apology and call for reconciliation and continue to play a leading role in bringing peace and unity through forgiveness and reconciliation with the various communities in South Sudan.

Machar said the biggest challenge that faces the new nation after attaining its independence is how to keep its people together in peace and unity. Earlier this month over 600 members of the Nuer community in Jonglei state were killed in a revenge attack by the neighboring Murle ethnic group.

As well as cattle raiding and banditry South Sudan also has to deal with numerous armed rebellions, many of which started after contentious elections in April last year.