FILE - South Sudan rebel chief George Athor Deng (C)
arrives for a press conference in Nairobi
on November 20, 2011 (AFP)
The life of the renegade general George Athor came to an abrupt end on Monday following clashes with Sudan people Liberation Army (SPLA) units at Morobo County in Central Equatoria state.
The office of South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar issued a statement confirming the death of Athor and adding that the latter was killed after infiltrating the country’s borders coming from Rwanda and driving through eastern borders of DRC and Uganda to recruit new fighters in Central Equatoria state.
Athor was killed instantly with one of his soldiers during the gun battle with “elements” around 18:00 hrs, according to the press release. His body is going to be handed over to his relatives for burial.
Although some questions still remain unanswered, Phillip Aguer, the SPLA spokesman said one of their forces was injured during the fight.
The Vice president called on the followers Athor’s to lay down their arms and join the process of peace and development.
“I appeal to all the followers of George Athor to heed to the amnesty and pardon declared by the President of the Republic on July 9th 2011,” he said.
Following Machar’s press conference, he told reporters that Athor’s death wasn’t planned since the government had declared general amnesty to all rebel groups in the country.
He also reiterated the commitment of the government to the agreement reached with Athor’s South Sudan’s Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM/A) forces last month.
“I call on all those who rebel against the government to lay down their arms and join the peace process,” Machar urged.
The vice president swiftly downplayed fears that incident could impact negatively on the ongoing peace process between government and those who rebelled against the southern regime.
“Why should it affect the peace process? After all we [government] did not agree with him [Athor] that he goes to Morobo County and start recruiting in Central Equatoria,” he said.
Athor has been leading a rebellion against the government of South Sudan since he defected from the SPLA in 2010 after he was announced to have lost the gubernatorial elections in Jonglei State, where he stood as an independent candidate.
His group issued a statement accusing Uganda of standing behind Athor’s killing.
“George Athor was killed by Ugandans. He left from his headquarters on Saturday with Ugandan plane to meet President Museveni to discuss how Uganda could assist the people of South Sudan to resolve the ongoing conflict with Juba’s regime. George Athor left with Major Thomas Duoth Makuach (American citizen), who was his assistant for Kampala. He arrived in Kampala at 2 pm Saturday afternoon. He was scheduled to meet President Museveni on Sunday” said the statement sent to Sudan Tribune by email that was signed by Maj. Gen. Bapiny Monytuil, Deputy Head of SSDA.
“We talked to Athor and Thomas Duoth when they arrived on Saturday. But we lost contact with them from Sunday onwards until we saw their dead bodies on South Sudan TV. President Museveni killed George Athor. The SSDA and SSLA military High Commands will have emergency meeting tomorrow to devise plans to revenge the killing of Athor. He was killed by Ugandans and Museveni will dearly pay for that. The SSLA and SSDA will teach Museveni a lesson he will never forget in his life”.
Monytuil vowed that the SSDA will continue its struggle.
“The war will continue until we liberate South Sudan. George Athor told us before he left that should anything happen to him in Uganda, the rest of the officers must continue the struggle until Salva Kiir is overthrown. The struggle will continue as usual”.
REACTION TO ATHOR’S DEATH
Jonglei state received the news of the death of renegade SPLA general George Athor, who operates mainly in his home county of Pigi, with mixed reactions.
Governor Kuol Manyang Juuk said the death of Athor is “a lesson to betrayers” of South Sudan but extended his condolences to the family of the deceased.
He appealed to Athor’s forces "to respond to the amnesty issued [in July] by the president of the Republic of South Sudan and joined the rest of their brothers and sisters in the development of Jonglei state and South Sudan.”
On the streets of Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, residents expressed different views.
“I wish was captured so that he can defend his action in the court of law,” said Samuel Garang
“It is good that he [Athor] died. He killed many innocent children and women in his military campaigns,” said Awan.
Lakes state Governor Chol Tong Mayay, shortly after news of Athor’s death, called for a press conference in his office and said that the rebel figure’s demise is a signal for peace and rest to people of Jonglei state who suffered from the battle against the insurgency.
He thanked SPLA forces who carried out the attack that resulted in Athor’s death.
“I have to congratulate the gallant SPLA soldiers who have today managed to get rid of the renegade Gen Athor in the bushes of Western Equatoria – congratulations SPLA – SPLA Oyee” the governor said.
John Prendergast, co-founder of the US based activist group Enough Project warned that Athor’s reported death did not mean an end to South Sudan’s divisions.
"The death of George Athor highlights the urgency with which the South Sudan government with international support must address inter-communal divisions within the South. Another Athor will emerge tomorrow unless real progress is made in providing political and economic opportunities that feel marginalized in the process of independence" Prendergast said.