Khartoum’s Seizure of Disputed Abyei District Could Launch New War between North and South Sudan

Andrew McGregor

May 26, 2011

Last weekend’s military occupation of the disputed Abyei district by the Northern Sudanese Army is the latest step in a series of armed clashes in the area that threaten to reignite hostilities between North and South Sudan in the lead-up to South Sudan’s official declaration of independence on July 9.

Abyei 2
Lying on the border of South Kordofan province (part of North Sudan) and Bahr al-Ghazal (part of South Sudan), the oil rich Abyei district is home to the Ngok Dinka and, for part of the year at least, the Arab Missiriya. The Ngok Dinka are well represented in the highest levels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). Abyei lies atop the highly productive Muglad Basin, though some believe intensive production in this area since the 1990s has largely depleted the reserves in this area. Several important pipelines from other oil-producing regions run through Abyei.

Both North and South Sudan were to have withdrawn military forces from Abyei by May 21, except for a small joint force that would continue to provide security. Yet, a battalion of roughly 200 Northern troops was attacked seven kilometers south of Abyei’s northern border during their withdrawal on May 19, leaving 22 soldiers dead and many more missing. The Northern battalion was being escorted by United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) units, which also came under attack. Northern military officials immediately blamed SPLA forces for the attack (SUNA, May 20; May 21). Khartoum responded by occupying Abyei with a force that included 15 tanks, while government aircraft were observed bombing a number of villages (Sudan Tribune, May 22). Armed looters swept through Abyei Town on May 23 without opposition, displacing nearly the entire population.

While the identity of the attackers has not been confirmed, the attack on the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) may have been a Southern response to an incident on May 1, when an SPLA unit attempted to prevent an SAF convoy of 200 men and six land-cruisers mounted with machine-guns from entering Abyei. The SAF force opened fire, killing 11 Southern troops and three civilians (AFP, May 3).

An SAF statement accused the SPLM of consolidating its military presence in Abyei since December 2010, in violation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (Sudan Vision, May 23). Khartoum maintains that Abyei remains part of the North under the constitution until a referendum determines otherwise. At a rally in South Kordofan on April 27, President Omar al-Bashir affirmed this position and expressed his support for the Missiriya tribe (SUNA, April 27).

abyei 1Missiriya Arabs

Armed clashes occurred between the Missiriya and the Ngok Dinka in 2007; and, by 2008, units of the SAF were battling the SPLA for control of Abyei, destroying much of the housing and infrastructure in the process. Arbitration at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague reduced the size of the district, giving the productive Heglig oil field to the North and promising a plebiscite on the future status of Abyei to take place simultaneously with a referendum on Southern independence in January 2011.

Inability to agree on whether the pastoral Missirya, who traditionally cross into Abyei with their herds for six to eight months of the year, should have the right to vote in a plebiscite on whether Abyei should join the North or South led to a postponement of the vote. The postponement was followed by renewed clashes between Ngok Dinka and Missiriya in late February/early March (for the background to the conflict in Abyei, see Terrorism Monitor Brief, October 4, 2010).

UNMIS peacekeepers stationed in the region stopped patrols in Abyei after the SAF ambush, citing the danger presented by the violence (Reuters, May 23). With some 15,000 to 20,000 residents losing their possessions and homes, a spokesman for the Government of the South Sudan (GoSS) appealed to the UN peacekeepers to “come out of their bunkers” (Sudan Tribune, May 23). The UN mission’s mandate expires on July 9, when the South is scheduled to become an independent state in consequence of the January referendum. According to a state minister of the Khartoum government: “UMNIS must pack their belongings because the time has come for their departure” (Sudan Tribune, May 23).

The UNMIS report on the incident failed to assign blame for the ambush, which brought an angry response from Northern officials, who said the UN’s “state of partiality and lack of clarity” would only encourage further violations of the 2005 CPA (Sudan Tribune, May 22).

The United States has warned that a continuing occupation of Abyei by Northern forces would jeopardize ongoing efforts to normalize relations with Khartoum, including removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism (Reuters, May 23). Northern officials have vowed their troops will remain in place until new security arrangements are made.

This article first appeared in the May 26, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

From Guerilla Fighter to Independence Politician: The Story of South Sudan’s Salva Kiir Mayardit

Andrew McGregor

November 30, 2010

With the January 9, 2011 Referendum on South Sudanese independence only weeks away, a long-time rebel commander turned politician stands to become the first president of a new African nation, a nation with abundant oil reserves but a highly uncertain future. Salva Kiir Mayardit, a Roman Catholic Rek Dinka from Warrap state in Bahr al-Ghazal province, fought in both of Sudan’s civil wars, finishing the second as chief military commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). [1]

Salva Kiir

Salva Kiir Mayardit


In 1967, a 17-year-old Salva Kiir joined the Ayanya Rebellion (1955-1972), an armed effort to establish a separate state in South Sudan. Following the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement that brought an end to Sudan’s First Civil War, Kiir was among those Anyanya guerillas who were integrated into the Sudanese Armed Forces or the Wildlife Protection Service (many other irreconcilable fighters went south to Idi Amin’s Uganda). He graduated from the Sudan Military College in Omdurman and went on to serve as a major in Sudanese military intelligence.

Having joined the renewed Southern insurgency in 1983, Salva Kiir’s skills and influence were recognized when he was made a member of the SPLA/M High Command Council, alongside notable Southern soldiers such as Colonel John Garang de Mabior (who emerged as SPLA/M Chairman), Lieutenant Colonel Karabino Kuanyin Bol, Major Arok Thon Arok and Lieutenant Colonel William Nyuon Bany. Of these figures, only Salva Kiir survives.

Kiir began to play an important political/diplomatic role in 1993 when he led the SPLM delegation to the OAU-sponsored Sudan Peace Talks in Abuja. Kiir took over as John Garang’s deputy following the death of William Nyoun Bany in 1996. He again led the SPLM delegation to the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) sponsored Sudan peace talks in Kenya that paved the way for the ground-breaking 2004 Machakos Protocol.

Increasing differences between Kiir and SPLA chairman John Garang in 2004 led to unsuccessful attempts by Garang to replace the popular military leader as commander-in-chief of the SPLA (Sudan Vision, July 8, 2005). There were in turn rumors that Kiir was planning to depose Garang and install veteran politician Bono Malwal in his place.

John Garang was Sudan’s foremost advocate of a united but democratic and federal Sudan that would incorporate Sudan’s many peoples into Sudan’s narrowly defined power structure, traditionally dominated by three Arab tribes of North Sudan. His vision on a “New Sudan” often placed him at odds with the rest of the SPLA/M leadership, many of whom advocated for an independent South Sudan. These divisions grew as the civil war showed few signs of ending and attitudes towards the North hardened. Garang became increasingly intolerant of internal challenges to his program and used force to maintain ideological discipline. However, Garang’s vision appears to have died with him in the helicopter crash that claimed his life in July 2005, only months after negotiating the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the civil war. Unlike Garang, Salva Kiir is a separatist who quickly changed the official direction of the SPLM into an independence movement from a national unity movement, finding much support and little opposition for the change.

The CPA established a Government of National Unity (GNU) in Khartoum and a Government of South Sudan (GoSS) based in Juba, with the GoSS President automatically becoming first vice-president of Sudan. Since Garang’s death, Kiir has served as first vice-president of the Sudanese GNU and president of the GoSS.  Kiir was not everyone’s choice as the movement’s new leader, but it was important to follow the established line of succession for the SPLA/M to maintain its international credibility as a partner in the CPA and prevent the movement from shattering. The result was a unanimous vote on the part of the SPLA/M High Command Council to elect Kiir as SPLM chairman and commander-in-chief of the SPLA. He was reelected by unanimous vote in 2008.

Kiir is not a forceful speaker but has used other methods to establish his public presence. Like most Nilotic peoples of the South Sudan, Kiir is unusually tall by Western standards and cuts a distinctive and memorable figure in his typical black suit, red tie and broad-brimmed black hat (the latter innovation has since been adopted by many of Darfur’s rebel leaders).

Disengaging from the New Sudan

It was widely expected that John Garang’s appointment to first vice-president of the Sudan under the terms of the CPA would mark the beginning of a new approach to the crisis in Darfur, but his death and the subsequent takeover of Salva Kiir as vice-president instead marked the beginning of a more muted approach by the SPLA/M to the Darfur issue. The movement’s attempts to unite the fractious Darfur rebels have been largely unsuccessful and even the SPLA/M’s limited efforts to help forge a solution to the Darfur crisis have been discouraged by Khartoum. Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) recently demanded that South Sudan arrest Darfur rebel leaders who are resident in the South (Sudan Tribune, November 8). Salva Kiir has nonetheless encouraged the unification of the many Darfur rebel movements and his discussions with Dr. Khalil Ibrahim’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM – the strongest rebel group in Darfur) have proved especially worrisome for Khartoum.

John GaranLate SPLA/M Chairman John Garang Mabior

With Kiir uninterested in the national presidency, the SPLM decided to run Yasir Sa’id Arman, a northerner and longtime member of the SPLM leadership, for the presidency in the April elections. However, Arman and the other leading challenger, former president and Umma Party leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, both decided to withdraw from the election citing irregularities. Following the withdrawal of the SPLM from the presidential contest, Kiir surprised many by saying he had voted to re-elect National Congress Party (NCP) chairman Omar al-Bashir as president of Sudan (Sudan Tribune, April 18).

Kiir has accused Khartoum of sending only 26% of Sudan’s oil revenues to the southern capital of Juba, rather than the 50% called for in the CPA (Sudan Tribune, October 1). Nearly 50% of the revenues that have reached Juba have gone to an ambitious rearmament program in the South intended to place the SPLA on a more even footing with the conventional forces of the SAF. Efforts have even begun to create a Southern Air Force.

Pardoning Thy Enemies

Under the terms of the CPA, the SAF and the SPLA became the only legal armed groups in Sudan. The many independent or pro-Khartoum militias operating in the South were given the option of disarming or joining one or the other legal armed forces. Naturally it became imperative for the SPLA/M to integrate these forces rather than allow pro-Khartoum armed groups to continue their existence in the South, but the process has been slow and even appeared to be failing in the last year as a number of SPLA commanders rebelled against Salva Kiir’s government in the aftermath of the April elections, which the dissidents complained were fixed in favor of Kiir loyalists.

In January 2006, Kiir’s negotiations with longtime anti-SPLA militia commander Paulino Matip Nhial resulted in the traditionally pro-Khartoum Bul Nuer commander joining the SPLA/M. The so-called “Juba Declaration” incorporating “other armed groups” into the SPLA/M was a major coup for Kiir and an important step in convincing remaining Nuer and other tribal dissidents to cooperate with the SPLA/M in the lead-up to the referendum. Paulino Matip was rewarded by being made Deputy Commander of the SPLA, with promotion to full General in May, 2009 (, May 31, 2009).

As Kiir began preparing the South Sudan for the independence referendum (and the possible outbreak of hostilities following a vote for separation), a series of small rebellions and mutinies by SPLA/M generals and officers threatened to destroy any chance of a unified approach to the question of separation. Many saw the hand of Khartoum and its proven “divide and conquer” approach to any threat to central authority behind these rebellions. Though Kiir initially responded with force to these challenges, he ultimately turned to an amnesty in September 2010, which, combined with the seeming inevitability of a Southern vote for independence, succeeded in bringing nearly all the rebel commanders back into the fold. It was a bold gambit – before the decision many Southerners were calling for the utter destruction of the rebel commanders; after the decision, the families of loyal SPLA troops killed in combating the rebellions were outraged at the pardons (New Sudan Vision, October 11). The main individuals concerned in the amnesty were the following:

  • Lieutenant General George Athor:  George Athor, a Dinka tribesman, ran as an independent for governor of Jonglei State in the April elections after having failed to receive the nomination of the SPLM. Unhappy with his loss in the polls, Athor and his men began a series of heavy clashes with SPLA forces in late April through May. Athor threatened to take the Unity (Wilayah) State capital of Malakal while SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amun accused him of being a pawn of the NCP (Sudan Tribune, May 17; al-Hayat, May 14). Athor’s men are now reported to be rejoining SPLA forces in Jonglei under the command of Major General Peter Bol Kong (Sudan Tribune, November 9).
  • Major General Gabriel Tang: Tang led a pro-government militia in the civil war. After clashing with the SPLA in 2006, Tang withdrew to Khartoum, where his forces were integrated with the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). An unannounced return to Malakal in February 2009 led to further clashes with the SPLA that left hundreds dead before Tang returned to Khartoum.Tang responded to the amnesty offer within days by flying to Juba and declaring his allegiance to the SPLA/M (Sudan Tribune, October 15).
  • David Yau Yau: A civilian from Jonglei, David Yau Yau is a member of the Murle Tribe and is tied to George Athor. Yau launched a small rebellion in Jonglei’s Pibor county after being defeated in the April elections. He was not named in the September 29 pardons, but is expected to follow George Athor’s lead (Miraya FM [Juba], July 5; Small Arms Survey, November 2010).
  • Colonel Gatluak Gai: A Colonel in the Prisons Service of South Sudan, this relatively unknown officer from the Jaglei Nuer led a short-lived rebellion in May-June against the SPLA/M in Unity State following the April elections. Several sources reported Missiriya Arab fighters amongst Gai’s force. The Colonel fled north after clashes with the SPLA and has not responded to offers of an amnesty (, November 18; Sudan Tribune, June 4;, June 30; Small Arms Survey, November 2010).

Preparing for the Referendum

Kiir’s decision not to contest the April 2010 Sudanese presidential elections in favor of running for president of the South Sudan was a clear sign the SPLA/M was no longer a national movement. With little real opposition, Kiir was returned to office with 93% of the vote. As president of the South Sudan, Kiir was automatically made vice-president of the national Sudanese government. In the ever-revolving world of Sudanese politics, Dr. Riek Machar, a Nuer warlord who spent many years dedicated to the destruction of the SPLA/M, was made vice-president of the GoSS.

Salva Kiir’s statement to supporters in Juba that he intended to vote for separation because the North had failed to make unity attractive was condemned by NCP official Rabie Abd al-Lati Obeid, who noted that the CPA “stated clearly that the SPLM with the National Congress Party should work together to achieve unity and to make unity attractive during the interim period…This is a clear violation of the CPA and it is against that agreement…” (Sudan Tribune, October 1; VOA, October 3).

After his return from recent meetings with UN and American officials, Kiir told a crowd in Juba:

Critically important is that the referenda take place on time, as stipulated in the CPA.  Delay or denial of the right of self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan and Abyei risks dangerous instability.  There is without question a real risk of a return to violence on a massive scale if the referenda do not go ahead as scheduled… We are genuinely willing to negotiate with our brothers in the North, and are prepared to work in a spirit of partnership to create sustainable relations between Northern and Southern Sudan for the long-term.  It is in our interest to see that the North remains a viable state, just as it should be in the interests of the North to see Southern Sudan emerge a viable one too.  The North is our neighbor, it shares our history, and it hosts our brothers and sisters.  Moreover, I have reiterated several times in my speeches in the past that even if Southern Sudan separates from the North it will not shift to the Indian Ocean or to the Atlantic Coast! (, October 4).

The most contentious issue Kiir must deal with is the future of Abyei, a disputed territory lying along the border of Kordofan (North) and Bahr al-Ghazal (South). A separate referendum to be held simultaneously with the independence vote will determine whether Abyei joins the North or the South. Most of the district’s Ngok Dinka are expected to vote for unification with the South, but the nomadic Missiriya Arabs of South Kordofan who pasture their herds there demand to be included in the voting. So far this issue has not been resolved and there are few signs the referendum will take place on time. Khartoum has said a postponement is necessary and Missiriya anger is threatening to create new violence in the already war-ravaged territory. Kiir has promised an SPLM government can provide services to the Missiriya, but cannot hand over the land to Missiriya control (Miriya FM [Juba], November 17). SPLM officials now speak of annexing Abyei if a referendum cannot be held, but only after making significant financial concessions to Khartoum.

Kiir has promised the Missiriya will continue to be allowed to graze their animals in an independent South Sudan: “Even if they come up to Juba, nobody will stop them” (Sudan Tribune, October 1). However, Kiir may find it difficult to back up such a promise under new attitudes to the presence of Arab nomads in an independent South Sudan. Many Southerners have fresh memories of the Missiriya’s role in the pro-Khartoum murahileen militias, accused by many Southerners of conducting widespread atrocities against the civilian population designed to break support for the SPLA/M during the civil war.


Though Kiir has managed to build a façade of unity going into the independence referendum, he has also surrounded himself with former rivals of questionable loyalty. Tribal tensions between Nuer and Dinka are never far from the surface and there is every possibility an aggravated dispute over posts, appointments and revenue sharing in an independent South could easily lead to a localized civil war, fueled by opportunists in Khartoum who would like to see the new state fail. As the vote grows ever closer there are indications that the leaders of the NCP, highly skilled at manipulating the international community, may attempt to force a postponement of the referendum on technical grounds. Kiir has said that the SPLA/M will not declare unilateral independence, but will instead press forward with the vote without the cooperation of Khartoum. The legality of such a step, not provided for in the 2005 CPA, would give Kiir’s opponents ample ammunition to disrupt the independence movement.


  1. The SPLA/M’s structure of a dual military/political command has served as a model for a number of other Sudanese rebel movements since its formation in 1983.

This article first appeared in the November 30, 2010 issue of the Militant Leadership Monitor

Renegade Opposition Leader Predicts Oil War in Sudan

Andrew McGregor

October 21, 2010

In a recent interview with a pan-Arab daily, a leading Sudanese politician claimed a vote for secession by the oil-rich South Sudan in the upcoming January referendum will not be accepted by the Khartoum government, leading to a third round in the North-South civil war that has already killed over two million Sudanese since 1955 (Asharq al-Awsat, October 8).

HassaneneinAli Mahmoud Hassanein (Sudan Tribune)

Ali Mahmoud Hassanein, Deputy Chairman of al-Hizb al-Ittihadi al-Dimuqrati (Democratic Unionist Party – DUP), now lives in self-imposed exile in London, where he is organizing a broad coalition “whose primary objective is to topple the government of Omar al-Bashir.” Hassanein was recently in the United States, where he was seeking support for his new front. He rejects suggestions that he is participating in “hotel activism,” noting he had little choice but to flee Sudan after security officials warned him that he would be killed if he continued his political activities after being released from prison last year. In 2008 Hassanein was imprisoned on charges of attempting to overthrow the government after advocating al-Bashir’s trial by the ICC (Sudan Tribune, August 30). Prior to that, Hassanein was arrested along with 30 other opposition figures in July 2007 on similar charges (Reuters, December 29, 2008).

Hassanein is convinced that a vote for independence in South Sudan will soon be followed by al-Bashir’s military crossing into the South to occupy the oil fields:

There are two possibilities: either the Southerners will choose secession, or, if the referendum is cancelled or if its results are questioned, they will declare unilateral independence. In both cases, al-Bashir will declare, on TV in a national address to the nation, that the oil fields are in danger and that Sudan’s national security is at stake. He will then declare that he has ordered the armed forces to take control of the oil fields.

The veteran 76-year-old politician is a notable opponent of the Sudanese president, whom he describes as “a dictator and a criminal.” Hassanein’s hard-line approach to the Sudanese president and his insistence that the president be tried by the International Criminal Court (which indicted al-Bashir in July 2008) has put him at odds with the DUP leader, Sayed Mohammad Osman al-Mirghani, who is also the leader of Sudan’s Khatmiyya Sufi Order. Sayed al-Mirghani has favored cooperation with al-Bashir since 2005 after having led the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an umbrella group of armed opposition wings. This political reversal has led the DUP’s deputy leader to criticize the role of Sudan’s traditional political parties in supporting the military/Islamist regime in Khartoum:

One of the reasons for establishing our movement was our belief that the traditional Sudanese political parties have failed to reflect the aspirations of the Sudanese people. They have been afflicted by inept leadership and have been dominated by certain families. This doesn’t just apply to the DUP, but all other traditional political parties as well.

Here Hassanein was certainly criticizing the DUP’s traditional rival, Sudan’s Umma Party, which is dominated by the descendants of the 19th century Mahdi. The DUP has always been the private preserve of the Mirghani family, leading to calls for Hassanein’s resignation from the party over his opposition to Sayed al-Mirghani. Hassanein, however, rejects such calls, saying, “I am a Unionist, I always have been, and I will die a Unionist.”

Hassanein believes Washington’s apparent improvement of relations with Khartoum is a temporary measure:

After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, which was sponsored by the U.S., it became clear that the U.S. wanted Southern Sudan to secede. So, now as the referendum in the South is getting closer and closer, the U.S., as expected, is appeasing al-Bashir so that he will not endanger the new state in the South.

The DUP deputy also pointed out that the Southern administration will not relinquish the Southern oil fields without defending them and has been purchasing tanks, planes and weapons with the knowledge that al-Bashir will never let them go. He claimed, “Not only will there be renewed war in the South, but also in Darfur, the east and other parts of Sudan.”

President al-Bashir told Sudan’s parliament last week that he would “not accept” any alternative to Sudanese unity, though his remarks were later downplayed by the Foreign Minister (AFP, October 15). According to Hassanein, with 90% of Sudan’s export revenues coming from oil, al-Bashir and his followers have changed their priorities “from ideology to business and from Shari’a to oil. They have become largely preoccupied with oil companies, pipelines, refineries, explorations, exports and revenues.” Hassanein suggests that without oil revenues the government will go bankrupt, with an economic collapse leading to the political collapse of the regime.

This article first appeared in the October 21, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Tribal Dispute Makes Oil-Rich Abyei Region Potential Flashpoint for Renewed Sudanese Conflict

Andrew McGregor

October 4, 2010

The future of the Sudan may lay in Abyei, a relatively small district on the border between Sudan’s North and South. Its status as part of either North or South Sudan will be determined in a plebiscite on January 9, held simultaneously with a referendum in the South that is expected to lead to the secession of the Southern provinces. Though the Abyei region is rich in high-quality crude oil, a conflict with the potential to ignite a new round of civil war may actually be fought over grazing rights.

Ngok DinkaNgok Dinka Leaders

Sitting atop the Muglad Basin, Abyei is one of Sudan’s most productive regions for high-quality oil production.  It is also home to the agricultural Ngok Dinka tribe, closely related to other Dinka clans in the South Sudan. However, for up to eight months a year it is also home to the nomadic Missiriya Arabs, part of the Baqqara (cattle-herding) Arab group that dwells in southern Darfur and southern Kordofan and takes its herds south for precious water and grazing during Sudan’s dry season (Asharq al-Awsat, August 6, 2009).

Abyei’s troubled status began in 1905 when the Anglo-Egyptian administration of Sudan transferred the “area of the nine Ngok Dinka chieftains” from the southern Bahr al-Ghazal province to the northern province of Kordofan. Relations between the Ngok Dinka and the Missiriya were amicable until the outbreak of the 1956-1972 North-South civil war, when the Ngok Dinka sided largely with the southern Anyanya separatist movement. When the war resumed in 1983, the Ngok Dinka again sided with the Southern opposition, this time in the form of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M).

Beginning in 1965, the Missiriya and other Baqqara Arabs were armed by Khartoum, forming mounted units known as the Murahileen. These militias raided the southern civilian population in SPLA-controlled territory, carrying out atrocities and kidnappings with a free hand. Though relations between the southern agriculturalists and the nomadic Arabs had always been uneasy, this strategy opened an irrevocable gulf between the two communities in the Abyei region.

Clashes occurred in the region in 2007 and 2008, when the town of Abyei was effectively razed to the ground by government-allied forces. The borders of Abyei were redrawn by an international arbitration tribunal in 2009 to neither side’s satisfaction, though the most productive oil fields were separated from a diminished Abyei and attached to the northern Kordofan province (RFI, July 22, 2009). The final status of the region is to be determined in a January 2011 referendum to be held simultaneously with the referendum on Southern independence, but a referendum commission has yet to be organized and there are still disputes regarding who is eligible to vote (Sudan Tribune, September 30; PANA Online [Dakar], September 24). With a vote for southern separation looking like a near certainty, the Missiriya fear that they will lose access to their traditional grazing lands. In this sense they are at odds with the National Congress Party of President Omar al-Bashir, which is willing to lose tribal grazing lands in favor of retaining oil fields.

As the plebiscite approaches and the question of whether the Missiriya will be allowed to vote on Abyei’s future remains unresolved, the rhetoric of Missiriya leaders has grown more incendiary. According to Missiriya chief Mukhtar Babo Nimr, “We will use force to achieve our rights and we will use weapons against anyone who tries to stop us from voting in the referendum… If they don’t meet our demands then we will set everything alight. If that leads to war then so be it” (Reuters, September 29). The Missiriya have prevented the demarcation of the new tribunal-ordered borders and the summer was marked by demonstrations organized by both the Njok Dinka and the Missiriya, as well as a number of attacks on villages by gunmen. Arop Madut Arop, a parliamentarian from Abyei, noted the southern peoples of Abyei “may take up arms. Their people in the SPLA/M may defect and go and join them and suddenly the northern army will also come in [and] within a few days, Sudan is back to war” (IRIN, July 8).

This article first appeared in the October 4, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Clashes with SPLA Rebels Move into Sudan’s Oil-Rich Unity State

Andrew McGregor

June 17, 2010

The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) continues to struggle with renegades who have broken away from GoSS security forces after losing in local elections in April to official candidates of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Gatluak GaiColonel Gatluak Gai (SMC)

The latest commander to take up arms against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA – the armed wing of the SPLM) is police Colonel Gatluak Gai (a.k.a. Galwak Gai), who called a Khartoum daily to announce his men had taken 27 machine guns with the intention of joining the forces of another renegade, Lieutenant General George Athor Deng (Al-Ra’y al-Amm [Khartoum], May 29). SPLA spokesman General Kuol Diem Kuol claims that Colonel Gai is working to further the interests of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum and to “disturb security” in Unity State (Sudan Tribune, May 29).  On June 2, Colonel Gai’s loyalists engaged in a firefight with SPLA troops, with a combined loss of nine lives. One of the captured Gai loyalists was reported by the SPLA to be a member of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) (AFP, June 2).

Colonel Gai’s followers were later defeated in a clash with the SPLA in Unity State’s Mayom County on June 7, in which 21 of his men were killed and 32 others captured. The SPLA reported Colonel Gai and an estimated 50 men had fled by night into a region of thick bush controlled by the Joint Integrated Units (JIU), forces composed of fighters drawn from both the SPLA and the SAF (Sudan Tribune, June 8). Colonel Gai and his fighters were last seen headed for the important Heglig oil field, a territory still disputed by Khartoum and the GoSS (Reuters, June 9).

General George Athor Deng, another defeated candidate who is leading a rebellion in similarly oil-rich Jonglei State, announced on June 2 that he was coordinating operations with Colonel Gai and another failed electoral candidate, David Yauyau, also of Jonglei State (Reuters, June 1; June 9).  Yauyau is a SPLA veteran who ran as the candidate of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a pro-independence Southern political party.

Containing some of the largest oil reserves in Sudan, Unity (Wahda) State was part of the South’s Upper Nile Province until boundaries were reorganized in 1994. The state has been repeatedly ravaged by government troops, militias and tribal clashes since 1997, resulting in a massive displacement of the local population (Business Daily Africa, June 16). Exact boundaries between North and South in the area have yet to be determined with the Southern referendum on independence now just a year away. Unity State is a potential flashpoint that could reignite the civil war between North and South Sudan.

The SPLM also faces dissension from a breakaway group, SPLM-Democratic Change (SPLM-DC). Elements of this group are believed responsible for the assassination of the paramount Shilluk chief, Peter Oyath, on May 22. SPLA forces reported clashing with SPLM-DC forces near Malakal international airport on June 6 (Sudan Tribune, June 8; June 10). However, SPLA spokesman General Kuol Diem Kuol has denied reports that SPLA forces entered Malakal (under JIU authority) to kidnap SPLM-DC politicians, including MP Mustafa Gai (Sudan Tribune, June 6).

Renegade Generals Threaten Unity of South Sudan’s SPLA as Independence Referendum Approaches

Andrew McGregor

May 20, 2010

As the January 2011 referendum on independence for oil-rich South Sudan approaches, ongoing mutinies and indiscipline within the South’s military may create conditions of insecurity that threaten to delay the long-awaited plebiscite. Khartoum has little interest in seeing its main source of revenue separate and the central government’s hand is seen by many in the South as being behind the mutiny of General George Athor Deng in the road-less but resource-rich Jonglei Province.

The border region between North and South Sudan is extremely tense; recent Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) troop movements in Blue Nile Province and South Darfur provoked a letter of complaint to President Omar Bashir from the leader of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS), Salva Kiir Mayardit (al-Sharq al-Awsat, May 3; AFP, May 1). Both the SAF and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) have been steadily rearming with oil revenues since the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (see Terrorism Focus, October 30, 2008).

George AthorGeneral George Athor Deng

General Athor’s Mutiny

In 2009, SPLA commander George Athor Deng (a Dinka tribesman) was promoted to Lieutenant General and placed in charge of SPLA political and moral orientation.  Athor failed to receive the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM – the political wing of the SPLA) nomination for governor of Jonglei state in April’s elections, which went instead to Lieutenant General Kuol Manyang. Like a number of would-be SPLM candidates who failed to get the nod from the party as its representative, Athor ran as an independent, finishing well behind Kuol Manyang. Unhappy with the results, Athor appears to have orchestrated a deadly attack on the Doleib Hills SPLA base (near Malakal) on April 30. The Doleib Hills area is contested between the Dinka Luac and the Shilluk of Upper Nile State. The night attack left twelve SPLA soldiers dead. Five prisoners from the attacking force claimed the order to attack had come from General Athor (Sudan Tribune, May 1). Athor appears to have been testing the waters at first, refusing to accept responsibility but admitting that the attackers “fought in my name.”  Athor suggested most of the casualties were the result of an ethnically-divided SPLA force shooting at each other (Sudan Tribune, May 2). It was later confirmed that anti-aircraft weapons, three anti-tank guns and a number of machine-guns were taken from the garrison’s arsenal (Sudan Radio Service, May 3).

Further clashes between Athor’s men and SPLA forces occurred on May 7 (Athor claimed 50 SPLA were killed to three of his men) and May 10 (Athor claimed 36 SPLA dead to the loss of seven dead and three wounded on his side) in a skirmish 188 miles north of the Jonglei capital of Bor (Reuters, May 7; May 11). Athor’s followers clashed with SPLA forces for the third time in a week on May 12. While Athor continued his improbable claims by saying his men killed 83 SPLA soldiers, an SPLA spokesman described the action as a skirmish that erupted when an 11 man SPLA reconnaissance team stumbled on Athor’s hideout in the thick forests of northwestern Jonglei, with two killed from their side and none from Athor’s group (Reuters, May 12). On the same day, General Athor announced that other armed groups were preparing to converge with his forces to attack the Jonglei capital of Bor (Sudan Tribune, May 12). Athor also boasted that he had sufficient forces to take the town of Malakal, capital of Wilayah (Unity) State (Reuters, May 3). On May 14, the mutineers mounted an unsuccessful ambush of a SPLA truck in northern Jonglei that left five attackers dead.

General Athor has since issued a number of demands, including the resignation of Kuol Manyang, cancellation of all election results, dissolution of the GoSS and an amnesty for his followers (Miraya FM [Juba], May 13). After the fourth attack, SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum said their intelligence section had “credible information” that the NCP was behind General Athor’s revolt, though Athor had already denied any connection to the ruling party in Khartoum (Sudan Tribune, May 17; al-Hayat, May 14). Though Athor has threatened to invade the provincial capitals of Bor and Malakal, SPLA authorities insist Athor is still south of al-Subat with a force of less than 100 men and only three vehicles, including Athor’s personal car (al-Hayat, May 14). However, SPLA spokesman Kuol Diem Kuol said there were signs some police and a number of South Sudan’s armed wildlife rangers (mostly former SPLA fighters) had joined Athor’s mutineers (Reuters, May 14).

Salva Kiir, whose authority is being challenged soon after a dominant election victory, appears to be losing patience with his renegade general, making a negotiated settlement increasingly unlikely (Sudan Tribune, May 17). In the meantime, the continuing insecurity in Jonglei has resulted in a lack of cultivation, threatening famine in the area (Miraya FM [Juba], May 14; Sudan Tribune, May 4).

General Dau Aturjong Nyuol, who had similarly and unsuccessfully contested the election for governor of Northern Bahr al-Ghazal state, was briefly the subject of reports tying him to General Athor’s revolt through an unnamed Brigadier working under his command (Sudan Tribune, May 5). The Brigadier later turned out to be John Jok Gai, who had passed close to Doleib Hills on his way to Malakal without an awareness of the events transpiring there. A political rival alleged that John Jok, an SPLA member since 1983, was on his way to defect to General Athor, a charge denied vigorously by the Brigadier (Sudan Tribune, May 3; May 4; May 5; May 9).

“New Sudan” vs. “South Sudan”

Despite growing support for the independence option, there are still a few flickers of life left in the “New Sudan” unity program that was official SPLM policy under the movement’s late leader, Dr. John Garang. On May 8, SPLM Secretary for North Sudan Yasir Sa’id Arman called on Northern opposition parties belonging to the anti-NCP Juba Alliance (including Sadiq al-Mahdi’s Umma Party, Hassan al-Turabi’s Popular Congress Party, the Sudanese Communist Party and the Khatmiyya Sufi dominated Democratic Unionist Party) to join with the SPLM in creating “the New Sudan.” Garang’s vision of a federal system that would reform Sudan’s highly centralized power structure that maintains power in the hands of three small Arab tribes in North Sudan largely expired when he died in a controversial helicopter crash near the Ugandan border in 2005. Garang was willing to use force if necessary to keep his concept of a unified Sudan alive, but Salva Kiir, like most SPLM/A leaders, is believed to prefer the secession option.

American Interests in Jonglei and the South

While France’s Total holds the largest concessions in Jonglei, Malaysian, Moldovan and British companies have also been carrying out oil exploration operations in Jonglei. The American Marathon Oil Corporation was forced to withdraw from the region after the imposition of U.S. sanctions on the Sudan. Jonglei Governor Kuol Manyang Juuk visited oil company executives in Houston last July, where he urged investors to set up refineries in Jonglei (Houston Chronicle, July 25, 2009). With an exception now being made to the sanctions for South Sudan, American energy interests can now return to the southern provinces. The United States is providing assistance in preparing the referendum, though U.S. envoy to Sudan Scott Gration recently told a Senate committee that “we can’t waste another minute” in preparing for the vote (AFP, May 13).

A Sudanese daily recently reported that the SPLM had prepared a document for presentation to a visiting American diplomat in which the SPLM/A offered to provide regional security and counter-terrorism forces in cooperation with AFRICOM in return for logistical support, military training and funds for weapons purchases. The newspaper said the document was prepared by a committee of senior SPLA officers headed by the Minister of SPLA Affairs, Lt. General Nhial Deng Nhial (Dinka). The plan was endorsed at a meeting headed by General Salva Kiir in the presence of Deng Alor (Dinka), the second vice-president of South Sudan, and Yasir Sa’id Arman (Ja’aliyin Arab), the leader of the SPLM’s northern branch.

Lam AkolDr. Lam Akol Ajawin

New Trouble on the Horizon?

Pan-Arab daily al-Hayat reported that an alliance was being formed in Khartoum between militia leader Gabriel Tanginya (or Tang), former Foreign Minister Lam Akol and General George Athor with the intention of challenging the authority of Salva Kiir Mayardit and derailing the 2011 independence referendum (al-Hayat, May 14). Dr. Lam Akol is the leader of SPLM for Democratic Change (SPLM – DC), an SPLM breakaway party created in June 2009. Lam Akol challenged for president of South Sudan in April’s elections as head of a broad coalition of opposition parties, but gathered only 7% of the vote compared to Salva Kiir’s 93%. The failed candidate maintains the voting was rigged and has the support of veteran Southern politicians such as Bona Malwal and General Joseph Lagu (Sudan Tribune, April 27). Major General Gabriel Tanginya (a.k.a. Gabriel Gatwech Chan) led a pro-government militia in the 1983-2005 North-South Civil War. After clashes with the SPLA in 2006, Tanginya withdrew his forces to Khartoum, where he and his forces were integrated into the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). A surprise return to the southern city of Malakal in February, 2009 resulted in further clashes with the SPLA before Tanginya withdrew once more (see Terrorism Monitor, March 13, 2009). The existence of this alliance cannot yet be confirmed, but it is almost certain that General Athor’s mutiny will not be the last violent confrontation with the SPLM/A.

SPLA spokesman Major General Kuol Dim Kuol claims great progress has been made in the professionalization of the SPLA:  “The SPLA has formed a nucleus air force and navy. Our pilots and engineers have been trained and local support and administrative units will follow suit” (, May 18). Nevertheless, the transformation of the SPLA from a guerrilla force to a regular army has been beset by problems related to the integration or demobilization of rival Southern guerrilla forces, incidents of indiscipline, delays in salaries and desertions. In April, three soldiers unwilling to transfer to Jonglei province were killed by SPLA military police after they looted and stole a supply truck in Bahr al-Ghazal. A month earlier, a large force of SPLA troops left for Wau rather than report to a training center near Bor (Sudan Tribune, April 19).  Despite these problems, the SPLA continues to make progress in developing a trained and unified fighting force, though there seems little chance the transformation will be completed before next January’s independence referendum.


Though not all elements in the trend can be confirmed, it appears that the SPLM is considering adopting a role as a U.S. client state in Africa in exchange for U.S. military aid or protection in the event of a renewed civil war with the North following the independence referendum. The GoSS is nearly completely reliant on oil revenues, but Khartoum will be reluctant to allow the immense petroleum reserves of southern states like Jonglei to slip from its hands. Khartoum currently collects 50% of Southern oil revenues. There are many political and tribal elements in South Sudan that have little interest in reconciliation with the Dinka-dominated SPLM/A. In the past these have been assisted by the central government’s intelligence agencies in the interest of disrupting the SPLM/A. Military mutinies are particularly unsettling in South Sudan, where they have a long history of marking the beginning of major conflicts.

AIS Update: General George Athor was reported killed in a clash with South Sudanese border guards in Morobo County in Equatoria State in early December, 2011.

This article first appeared in the May 20, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Is Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army Operating in Darfur?

Andrew McGregor

October 23, 2009

Various reports are claiming that the guerrillas of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have moved in bulk into South Darfur, where they will allegedly seek supplies and arms from the Sudanese government. The movement into Darfur was reported to have been compelled by helicopter attacks on the LRA by Ugandan Special Forces units operating out of Yambio, Sudan as part of a tripartite (DRC, Uganda, South Sudan) military offensive against the brutal fighters led by the notorious Joseph Kony.

Arrow BoysArrow Boys of Western Equatoria

Most prominent of these was a front page cover story in Britain’s Independent daily asserting Kony and a significant part of his forces had crossed into southern Darfur (Independent, October 17). The main source in the story was a statement by Major-General Kuol Deim Kuol of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan that was carried in the Sudanese press two weeks earlier (Sudan Tribune, September 28). General Kuol claimed the bulk of the LRA forces had crossed from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR) into southern Darfur, where they had clashed with the local population. The General maintained SPLA reconnaissance groups had tracked the LRA across the border, where he suggested they would seek a safe base for their wives and families while seeking arms and ammunition from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF).

However, the Independent reported Kuol saying hunters had encountered LRA fighters near the town of Tumbara. There is no such place in southern Darfur, though there is a Tambura in the southern part of Western Equatoria (South Sudan), close to the LRA’s operations in the CAR, but far from the border with southern Darfur. The Independent added that the LRA had moved into the “Raga district in southern Darfur.” Raga is in Western Bahr al-Ghazal, also part of South Sudan rather than Darfur. The director of communications from the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) declared the mission had spent days going over reports of an LRA presence, but had failed to find any “hard evidence” to confirm them (Independent, October 17).

The original Sudan Tribune story said that “Kuol suggested that Kony is seeking protection from the Sudanese army and may be used to fight the Darfur rebels” (September 28). Basing its report on the Sudan Tribune story, the Kampala Observer claimed several days later that Kuol had stated that the LRA were fighting as mercenaries alongside the Janjaweed militia in Darfur (October 4).

Elsewhere, there were reports of LRA fighters killing two women in raids near Yambio in Western Equatoria at the same time the main group was reported to be crossing into Darfur (Sudan Tribune, October 16; New Vision [Kampala], October 16). The fighters were driven off by members of the lightly armed Arrow Boys, a local self-defense group that combats LRA incursions with weapons such as spears and bows and arrows. Yambio is roughly 650 kilometers from the border with South Darfur as the crow flies – much farther in rough and road-less bush country. If these reports are correct, they would suggest either the main body of the LRA has abandoned elements of its forces in the move north, or is still operating in the area where the DRC, CAR and Sudan borders intersect. Other LRA units were simultaneously reported to be carrying out new attacks in the northern DRC (BBC, October 14).

The presence in Darfur of the LRA, which is generally believed to have once been armed and funded by Khartoum in retaliation for Kampala’s support of the SPLA, would be a major embarrassment to President Omar al-Bashir, who is currently facing Darfur-related war crimes charges from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Salah Gosh, a senior presidential advisor who has been tied to war crimes in Darfur in his former capacity as director of Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Services, accused the SPLA of issuing “fabrications,” adding, “The SPLA knows very well where Kony is” (Sudan Tribune, September 28).

The reports of an LRA entry into Darfur came as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni invited Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to an AU summit on refugees held this week in Kampala (New Vision, October 14). Despite Uganda being a signatory to the ICC statute—and thus obligated to enforce the ICC warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest—Museveni said such an act would not be “according to the culture of the Great Lakes region in Africa… We do not believe in surprise attacks.” An ICC representative insisted Uganda had a responsibility to carry out the arrest (Daily Monitor, October 16). The issue was resolved when Sudan decided to send two junior ministers to the summit instead (New Vision, October 19). Sudan has also expressed its willingness to share its expertise in the oil sector with Uganda as the latter begins development of a one-billion barrel oil reserve discovered on the Albertine rift in Uganda (Dow Jones Newswire, October 1; Sudan Tribune, October 2).

This article first appeared in the October 23, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

South Sudanese Military Vows to Destroy the Lord’s Resistance Army

Andrew McGregor

September 10, 2009

After being accused of inactivity by residents of Western Equatoria and various humanitarian NGOs, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) will commit additional troops including its Special Forces to eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army threat to South Sudan. The northern Ugandan group was formed in 1987 and claims to seek the establishment of a Ugandan government based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments. The movement, led by Joseph Kony, has employed remarkable levels of violence and cruelty in its pursuit of these aims. Since being driven from Uganda it has spread out over South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).

SPLA TroopsSPLA Troops in the Field (AFP)

The LRA, once intended to represent Acholi interests in northern Uganda, now appears to have lost the last vestiges of ideological purpose, carrying out atrocities without provocation in several African states but no longer operating in Uganda. Despite determined efforts by Uganda and its regional partners to resolve the conflict, LRA leader Joseph Kony has backed away from every effort to negotiate a settlement.

At present, the 8th Brigade of the SPLA’s 2nd Division (about 3,000 troops) is hunting the Ugandan rebels in platoon-strength units meant to intercept LRA groups of 5 to 10 people over wide swathes of bush country. According to SPLA spokesman Major General Kuol Deim Kuol, the LRA “come to attack the people and take the food and escape back to hide inside the forest in the DRC, like rats… we are seriously planning to track them down and attack them inside their den in the Garamba forests where they run to” (Sudan Radio Service, September 3).

The SPLA is responsible for security in South Sudan under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with Khartoum. The Khartoum regime’s former sponsorship of the LRA as a counter to Uganda’s sponsorship of the SPLA during the civil war (1983-2005) has created suspicion in some Southerners that the ruling Islamist National Congress Party (NCP) continues to use the LRA to spread insecurity in the South as the region nears a crucial 2011 referendum on independence. SPLA Major General Kuol Deim Kuol is among them. “We [the SPLA] are saying that the NCP is still keeping up their old good relationship with the LRA. As you know, Joseph Kony [the LRA leader] is the NCP’s darling; he was residing here in Juba [capital of Equatoria Province] until the SPLA came to Juba in 2005 – all this time Kony was staying here with the NCP.” The rebel movement suspended all peace talks in Juba on September 4 (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 4).

Following the revision of AMISOM’s mandate in Somalia, which changed from “peacekeeping” to “peace-enforcement” in early September to allow it to engage in combat against insurgent forces, the United Nations is considering a similar revision to the mandate of the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo (MONUC), which would allow it to join the military campaign against the LRA (Garowe Online [Puntland], September 2; New Vision [Kampala], August 27). Changes to the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) are also being contemplated.

The fighting in Western Equatoria is particularly brutal – reportedly short on ammunition, the LRA continues to practice mutilations and amputations with weapons such as machetes to terrify helpless civilians. Local militias that formed to fend off the LRA marauders have also taken to mutilating LRA prisoners in revenge and to dissuade their comrades from returning (Sudan Tribune, March 6).  Known as the “Arrow Boys,” the militias use traditional weapons such as bows and arrows, spears, machetes and clubs to defend their homes from the LRA (Sudan Tribune, January 14, 2008).

The operation against the LRA has now been extended to the Central African Republic (CAR), according to the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) (The Monitor [Kampala], September 8). According to a UPDF spokesman, the CAR invited the Ugandans to pursue LRA units in the CAR, where the administration controls little of the country outside the capital of Bangui (New Vision [Kampala], September 7). Kony led nearly 200 followers into the southeastern CAR in February 2008, forming a base at Gbassiguri for forays into South Sudan.

A bipartisan bill, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate in May, would require the Obama administration to act on the elimination of the LRA threat and the apprehension or removal of Joseph Kony and his top commanders. Over 50 UPDF officers arrived in Djibouti on September 8 to receive advanced training from the U.S. military (Monitor [Kampala], September 8). Most of the officers are expected to join Ugandan forces in Somalia after the training, but some might be committed to the two decade-old campaign to destroy the LRA.

This article first appeared in the September 10, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Pro-Government Warlord Launches Attack in South Sudan’s Oil-Rich Malakal Region

Andrew McGregor

March 13, 2009

Fierce fighting broke out last week in the oil-rich region in and around Malakal, the capital of Sudan’s Upper Nile State, after a government-sponsored militia leader made an unexpected return to the city, where he is wanted by local authorities for his role in a violent episode in 2006 that left 150 people dead.

TanginyaMajor General Gabriel Tanginya

Major General Gabriel Tanginya (a.k.a. Gabriel Gatwech Chan) led a pro-government militia in the 1983-2005 North-South Civil War. Following the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Tanginya and his forces were integrated into the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), with the militia leader being rewarded with the inflated rank of Major General. Bloody clashes with the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) in 2006 led to the withdrawal of Tanginya and his militia to Khartoum, where they have remained since. His surprise return to Malakal on February 23 was seen by some southern politicians as a provocation designed to reignite the civil war (AFP, February 27; Sudan Tribune, February 26). The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) claims Tanginya was met in Malakal by members of the SAF’s military intelligence. Peacekeepers belonging to the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) asked Tanginya to leave shortly after his return to Malakal, but the militia leader refused.

Fighting erupted after the SPLA tried to arrest Tanginya on an outstanding warrant issued by the GoSS. Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) units belonging to the Joint Integrated Units (JIU) formed from SPLA and government forces after the 2005 peace treaty joined in the defense of Tanginya against their former JIU comrades. Troops of the SPLA’s 7th Division under the command of Major General Majier Amel pounded the SAF units and Tanginya’s militia with artillery and tank-fire, driving these forces towards the Malakal airport (New Sudan Vision, February 25). Fighting also spread to the Faluj oil field north of Malakal, where the GoSS reported clashes between Khartoum’s “petroleum police” and villagers in a number of places inside the oil-producing zones.

The fighting came to an end with the dispatch from Khartoum of a delegation led by Government of South Sudan (GoSS) Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, a controversial figure who led his own Nuer-based pro-government militia against the SPLA during the Civil War. Machar ordered Tanginya to return to Khartoum and UN officials urged the JIU to “demonstrate tolerance and uphold their professional obligations” (Sudan Tribune, February 27). The death toll in Malakal included 26 civilians, 15 soldiers of the SPLA, and 16 soldiers of the SAF. 84 soldiers and civilians were wounded (Sudan Tribune, February 27).

Malakal was the scene of tribal violence earlier this year when a dispute between the Chollo Shilluk and the Ngok Dinka over who should enter a local stadium first for a celebration of the fourth anniversary of the CPA turned violent. Nine people were killed and 90 injured by the fighting and police gunfire. Shortly thereafter as many as 12 people in the nearby village of Nagdiar were killed in an attack and two other villages burned to the ground (Miraya FM [Juba], January 25). Malakal lies in land traditionally claimed by the Chollo Shilluk. The Ngok Dinka arrived in the area in 1818, leading to disputes over land ownership (Khartoum Monitor, January 16). The Dinka are the most powerful tribe in the SPLA. The arrival of General Tanginya in Malakal may have been an attempt to exploit this dispute to create further divisions between the Shilluk and the Dinka in the lead-up to the 2011 referendum on Southern independence.

The fighting also demonstrated the fragility of the JIU, which broke into North-South factions as soon as the fighting began. Though it has always been difficult to find anyone with much confidence in the joint infantry units, there was still some hope they might provide a template for a combined national army if the South votes for unity with the north in the upcoming referendum.

In 2006 SPLA forces in Malakal clashed with Tanginya’s second-in-command, Mabor Dhol, after the latter refused orders to leave Malakal. 150 people were killed in the consequent fighting and a warrant was issued for Tanginya’s arrest. GoSS Minister of Information Gabriel Changson Chang said, “We must stress that any attempt to evacuate or protect Tanginya and his accomplices will constitute a crime of harboring and aiding criminals” (Sudan Tribune, February 26). In response, Riek Machar described the arrest procedure as “a complicated matter:”  “There is nobody that would arrest a Major General in the Sudan Armed Forces, except the command of the SAF, which I don’t belong to” (Sudan Tribune, March 1).

This article first appeared in the March 19, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Mystery of Arms Ship Seized by Somali Pirates Grows Deeper

Andrew McGregor

October 30, 2008

In the holds of the Ukrainian cargo-ship MV (Motor Vessel) Faina, seized by Somali pirates in September, are 33 Russian-designed T-72 battle tanks and a substantial cargo of grenade launchers, anti-aircraft guns, small arms and ammunition. Kenya and Ukraine both insist the arms and armor are destined for the Kenyan Department of Defense to replace Kenya’s 1970s vintage Vickers MK 3 tanks (Daily Nation, September 29; AFP, September 28). At the moment, Kenya’s armed forces do not use any Russian-designed equipment and Kenyan military sources have been reported as saying no training on the Ukrainian/Russian-built equipment has taken place, normal purchasing procedures were not followed and the Department of Defense was only informed of the shipment after it had been seized by the Somali pirates (Daily Nation, September 29).

 MV Faina 1Somali Pirates on the MV Faina (Aftonbladet)

A shipping document found on the vessel by Somali pirates indicates the arms are headed for “GOSS,” the usual acronym for the Government of South Sudan. Ukrainian and Kenyan officials insist the acronym stands for “General Ordinance Supplies and Security,” an apparently meaningless phrase that some Kenyan military officials say they have never seen before (Sudan Tribune, October 8). Kenyan government spokesman Dr. Alfred Mutua says Nairobi is still hopeful the MV Faina will be released “and we will get our cargo” (Daily Nation, October 23).

There are claims from maritime shipping observers that the MV Faina is actually the fifth ship in the last year involved in shipping arms and tanks through the Kenyan port of Mombasa to South Sudan (The National [UAE], September 29, BBC, October 7). 50 tanks destined for the SPLA were seized in Mombasa in February, though the fate of this shipment is uncertain (Sudan Tribune, February 15; Al-Ray al-Aam [Khartoum], February 15, Juba Post, February 22). With the status of Sudan’s oil fields still in dispute, South Sudan appears to be arming in preparation for a resumption of Sudan’s Civil War following the 2011 South Sudan independence referendum. The T-72’s would be more than a match for Khartoum’s Chinese-designed Type 59 (al-Zubayr) tanks, a copy of the Russian-designed T-54, though more modern Type 96 (al-Bashir) tanks were unveiled in a military parade last December. Nevertheless, an SPLA spokesman denied the weapons were destined for South Sudan, saying the SPLA was not yet “advanced enough” to receive shipments of modern weapons (Reuters, September 29). There are no indications that SPLA personnel are receiving the extensive training needed before they could make use of the MV Faina’s cargo.

Khartoum announced last week that senior Sudanese officials will not be attending the October 26-28 Nairobi meeting of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD – an important regional organization that includes Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti). The snub comes only days after Sudan cancelled a meeting intended to seal a deal providing Kenya with discounted Sudanese oil (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 22).

Both moves are seen as expressions of Khartoum’s displeasure with the use of Mombasa as a port for unauthorized arms shipments to land-locked South Sudan. Under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan, all arms purchases by the southern Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) must be approved by the central government. Khartoum has also accused Ethiopia of supplying arms to the SPLA (Reuters, October 13). Shipments of arms to South Sudan do not violate the current UN arms embargo, as has been reported elsewhere.

On October 27, Russia announced that it had been given permission by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to take military action against Somali pirates (ITAR-TASS, October 27). The Russian Baltic fleet guided-missile frigate Neustrashimy is now in Somali waters and is prepared to “take part in joint operations against pirates together with the vessels of foreign naval forces” (Kommersant, October 28). The MV Faina is currently surrounded by ships of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet determined to ensure the arms are not offloaded. Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union (ICU) resistance movement has denied any involvement in the hijacking, noting that the ICU had eliminated piracy in 2006 (Reuters, September 29).

Confusing the issue is a recent statement by anonymous Yemeni government sources that the tanks and other arms on the MV Faina were destined for Yemen, not South Sudan (Yemen Post, October 20).Yemen is currently the world’s fourth largest importer of Russian arms, many of which are resold to third parties, and has just concluded a deal with Moscow to allow Russian naval ships to “use its ports for reaching strategic objectives” (Yemen Times, October 18). The Neustrashimy docked in Aden before heading for Somali waters. Amidst the rising tensions, Yemen has announced the postponement of this week’s regional summit on piracy, scheduled to be held in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a (Yemen Post, October 20).

MV Faina 2T-72 Tanks being Offloaded from the MV Faina (Gideon Maunu)

(AIS Update: The MV Faina was released by its captors on February 5, 2009 after the payment of a $3.2 million ransom by the ship’s Ukrainian owners. The T-72 tanks were offloaded in Kenya, allegedly destined for a Kenyan military base according to the Nairobi government. U.S. satellite photos later revealed the armor was sent on to South Sudan in violation of the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), for which Kenya was a guarantor. See and  for relevant U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.)