A renegade army general in South Sudan says he had taken command of a body of soldiers and demanded the removal of the man who beat him in recent elections.
South Sudan’s army accused George Athor of masterminding an attack on one of its bases on Friday and plotting further assaults after he lost in the race to become governor of the oil-producing south’s Jonglei state last week.
The confirmation that Athor set up his own military force days after the contested vote will stoke tensions in the region already hit by tribal violence and decades of civil war.
Athor denied leading last Friday’s attack, but told Reuters on Monday (yesterday) he had moved to a location near the border of Jonglei and neighbouring Upper Nile state with a number of soldiers. He would not say how many men he commanded.
Speaking by satellite phone, Athor declined to give details of his immediate plans but warned he would respond to any provocation from the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
“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.”
Sudan last week wrapped up elections that were seen as a test of democracy in Africa’s largest country, particularly in its south which is preparing for a referendum in January 2011 on whether to declare independence from the north.
Athor and other independent candidates accused the south’s dominant party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), of harassing their supporters and rigging the vote.
Athor, a member of the large Dinka tribe, said he had a number of demands which he hoped to achieve through negotiation.
“I need Governor Kuol to be removed from his position,” said Athor, referring to Jonglei’s incumbent SPLM governor Kuol Manyang who kept his seat in the elections. Athor said he had no ambition to take Manyang’s place but just wanted him removed.
“And the forces that have joined me are to be given amnesty and to return to their units without punishment,” he added.
The southern army played down Athor’s warnings, saying he did not have a large enough force to mount large-scale attacks.
Southern army spokesperson Malaak Ayuen said the latest intelligence suggested Athor was on the move, heading south.
“I don’t think he will attack a big town but he will try to destabilise communities … Now SPLA forces are very much aware and they are prepared to face him.”
An international source in Juba, who asked not to be named, said Friday’s attack was a worrying development. “The fact that arms were reportedly stolen is worrisome for the future security of the area. Clearly there is a danger.”
The southern army said at least eight people died in the attack on its base in Doleib Hill, near the border of Jonglei and Upper Nile last week. Athor said soldiers in the base had mutinied after receiving orders to arrest him.