KAMPALA, Uganda — In a remote part of southern Sudan forces loyal to a dissident general killed more than 200 people last week in a series of attacks that threaten the region's fragile peace only weeks after people voted overwhelmingly for independence in an historic referendum.
A southern official described the killings near the village of Fangak as a “massacre” carried out by members of a renegade militia headed by former army officer George Athor who took up arms after crying foul when he lost a governorship election in the oil-rich Jonglei state last year.
This is bad, but worse, some suspect he has links to Khartoum which has a long history of backing rebellious militias in the south (and elsewhere in the country, for example Darfur).
"Today armed groups are being financed, being armed, being sent into southern Sudan from the north,” Pagan Amum, secretary-general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), told reporters in the southern capital Juba. “You know that George Athor who just caused the massacre in Fangak, his guns are coming from Khartoum.” Unsurprisingly the northern National Congress Party (NCP) denied the accusation.
Southern officials who visited the scene in Jonglei said most of the dead were civilians and children including some who drowned after being chased into a river. In an interview with a radio station this week Athor said civilians had been killed in the crossfire when the southern army soldiers his men were fighting ran into populated areas. He also said he was willing to sign a fresh treaty. “I do not want more bloodshed,” he told the USAID-funded Sudan Radio Service.
The clashes over two days last week shattered a ceasefire agreed in early January just days before a referendum on southern secession that was largely peaceful. But since that vote deadly violence has erupted on at least three separate occasions, underscoring the fragility of peace and depth of divisions in a region that is scheduled to become the world’s newest country on 9 July.
In the town of Malakal northern soldiers mutinied sparking battles that spread to neighboring towns and killed more than 50 people, and in the disputed territory of Abyei a mob of southerners lynched three northerners in the market at the weekend. But with a death toll of over 200 and more than 100 wounded Athor’s rampage is the deadliest so far.