Sudan: Emerging Armed Groups and Militias
Source: Small Arms Survey
Small arms are ubiquitous in Southern Sudan, allowing armed groups to form relatively easily in response to both local grievances and national or regional decision-making. Inter-communal tensions and localized insecurity were widespread in the South following the nationwide elections held in April 2010, when several dissidents launched armed insurrections in opposition to the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). In the aftermath of the South’s peaceful self-determination referendum in January 2011, a ‘permanent ceasefire’ deal with one of these dissidents, George Athor, has fallen apart with heavy fighting occurring in Jonglei state. There has also been increased insecurity in neighbouring Upper Nile due to a mutiny within the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) stationed there.
The uprisings were most intense in the aftermath of the April polls. Within six months the revolts had largely subsided, but less than two weeks after the announcement of the results of the January referendum, violence resumed between the SPLA and George, the most powerful of the insurrection leaders. The referendum resulted in an almost unanimous vote for secession—as had widely been predicted—leaving the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) in charge of a soon-to-be sovereign state in a security environment that remains unpredictable and that it does not fully control. The fighting that occurred between George’s men and various Southern security forces on 9–10 January in Fangak county, Jonglei state, which Southern authorities say claimed more than 200 lives (mainly civilians), illustrates how fragile GoSS control is over its vast and militarized territory.
In September 2010, the SPLM/A embarked on serious efforts to quell internal dissent within the South—both militarily and politically. Senior Southern leaders made multiple entreaties to the insurrection leaders, including an amnesty offer in late September from GoSS president Salva Kiir to two key figures—George Athor and Gatluak Gai—in exchange for a ceasefire and a commitment to (re)join the SPLM/A. The amnesty also extended to Gabriel Tang Gatwich Chan (‘Tang-Ginye’), a major general in the SAF whose militia was backed by Khartoum during the civil war and fought against the SPLA. Although Tang-Ginye agreed to join the SPLA last October, he then returned to Khartoum. A senior SPLM official told reporters in Juba in mid-February that Tang-Ginye had only returned to the South in mid-January with new arms and uniforms provided by SAF. It remains unclear what role he may now be playing in his home area in Upper Nile, and there are conflicting rumours about his presence in Fangak.
The February fighting has effectively broken the ceasefire, resulting in uncertainty as to the status of the other rebel leaders, none of whom has made public statements since the new fighting began. Criticisms were leveled against Khartoum for its alleged role in the recent insecurity by SPLM secretary-general Pagan Amum, which is an alarming sign of possibly deteriorating North-South relations as the two sides prepare to negotiate on many contentious outstanding issues related to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that must be resolved before July.