In Sudan: Documents released today by the SPLM are clearly authentic

By Eric Reeves

March 15, 2011 (SSNA) — The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) this past week formally suspended talks with the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime in Khartoum. This creates a highly dangerous situation, and would not have occurred without extreme provocation. And in fact, the suspension was precipitated by ongoing regime-sponsored violence in the South, particularly Jonglei and Upper Nile States. The apparent tipping point was very recent violence on the part of renegade militia leader George Athor, who is responsible for a series of extremely brutal attacks in Jonglei, and an assault this past Saturday (March 12) on Malakal, capital of Upper Nile, by another renegade leader, Commander Olony. Further, the highly reliable Small Arms Survey (March 13) confirms SPLM claims that the guerilla leader Gabriel Tang Gatwich, known as Gabriel Tanginya (“Tang”), has moved from Northern Sudan to Jonglei, in the same general area of operations as Athor. The brutal Tang, who has been a Major General in the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), was twice sent to Malakal by Khartoum as a deliberate provocation (2006 and 2009), resulting in large-scale clashes and much loss of life (see Human Rights Watch report).

If there is a larger Southern hand behind these actions, especially those of the Shilluk Commander Olony, it is Lam Akol—a long-time paid supporter of Khartoum, and a fully discredited Southern politician, who continues to trade brazenly on his Shilluk tribal identity. One of the documents released today confirms the delivery of weapons and ammunition to “friendly forces” in the South, and specifically notes Athor and Akol. (For a detailed account of Akol’s role in the recent attack on Malakal, see Sudan Tribune, March 15, 2011.)

This documentary evidence—originating from within Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) [1]—clearly reveals the regime’s continuing military support for such warlords and destructive political elements during the Interim Period following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005). The documents (in Arabic) were widely circulated today and may be readily obtained; all available evidence dictates that they must be regarded as authentic. Preeminent within this body of evidence is the extraordinary record of lies and dishonored agreements that define the regime’s relations with all Sudanese parties and with the international community. It is a record that now extends over more than twenty years.

During this time the South has been continually victimized by the regime’s use of proxy military forces. For despite Khartoum’s regular denials, the evidence of such actions in aggregate is overwhelming—despite the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and despite Khartoum’s professing that it has accepted the virtually unanimous Southern vote for secession and independence (February 2011). A number of examples of demonstrable mendacity are offered below; the list could be extended almost indefinitely. The SPLM leadership is now persuaded that the regime will not negotiate in good faith if it is both lying about its continuing support for renegade elements like Athor, as well as lying about its commitment to the Abyei Protocol and the ruling on Abyei by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (July 2009).

The world has too often responded to situations such as the present one with what amounts to a disingenuous agnosticism or moral equivalence—giving equal weight to the statements by Khartoum and by the SPLM, even when the past argues strongly against crediting any statement made by the regime in a matter of dispute. This habitual agnosticism has encouraged the long history of fully demonstrable mendacity by the regime, and leaves these brutal men to believe that they may dismiss the current SPLM documentary evidence as mere “forgeries.”

But such a claim makes no sense either on its own terms, or in the present negotiating context, or within the broader history of lies in which this dismissal takes its place. Logic alone should settle the matter: why would the SPLM negotiate with Khartoum by releasing forged documents, which both they and the regime would know to be forged? Such an act would make Khartoum less rather than more disposed to negotiate the outstanding North/South issues that matter most to the SPLM, and over which the leadership has shown deeply impressive restraint to date: border demarcation and delineation, external debt, citizenship for Southerners in the North, oil revenue-sharing, and above all, Abyei.

These are vital interests for the people of the South and the SPLM; they simply would not risk the consequences of attempting to use forged documents as a negotiating ploy with highly doubtful prospects for any sort of success. Nor would they risk being discovered as authors of forgeries: this would squander a reputation for honesty that, if not perfect, puts them in a position of enormous strength vis-à-vis the regime. A good example here is the commitment by the SPLM to abide by the “final and binding” ruling on Abyei by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (July 2009). Khartoum of course made the same commitment but is clearly violating the terms of that ruling, as well as those of the Abyei Protocol—pushing for yet more territory in northern Abyei. Their strategy has been to mobilize the Misseriya Arabs on the basis of lies about the future of their grazing rights in the region—rights consistently recognized and guaranteed by the SPLM. Even more dangerously, the regime is now poised to seize Abyei militarily as a basis for “re-negotiating” the region’s final status.

Another example is Khartoum’s denial of a bombing attack this past December on Southern military and civilian targets—an attack that was subsequently confirmed by UN observers and an Associated Press journalist (an earlier bombing was acknowledged only as a “mistake,” a highly dubious claim). An extraordinarily consequential action—aerial attack on civilian and military targets in the South during the run-up to the self-determination referendum—was denied, even as the denial was a demonstrable lie.

The contents of the documents as reported today comport all too well with what we know of Khartoum’s history: they are internal memoranda confirming the regime’s longstanding efforts to de-stabilize the South by proxy forces. A couple of examples are particularly telling:

[1] “One document dated August 2009 and signed by Defense Minister Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein said that because of leakage of the north’s alleged involvement with the militias, ‘the armament operations to be stopped for the time being, for the armament to resume later through intelligence.’ In response to that message, the head of the military intelligence sent a document to a military leader in Kosti asking for weapons and ammunition to be handed to friendly forces ‘in a secretive and obscure manner’ in Heglig in Southern Kordofan state and Daeen in South Darfur state.” (Bloomberg, March 15, 2011)

[2] “Athor first took up arms against the government after he lost a state election in April. These documents allegedly show the Sudanese government started arming Athor in May 2010, a month after he lost the state election. ‘Regarding Athor’s agent, the aforementioned was handed the second shipment of weapons and ammunition,’ reads another document dated May 2010, from the military in Kosti, the capital of White Nile, a northern state bordering the south.” (Bloomberg, March 15, 2011)

[3] “One of the documents appears to be a letter dated May 18, 2010, and signed by a military commander in the northern city of Kosti that reports that a delivery of weapons and ammunition had just been given to an Athor agent. Another, dated Sept. 22, 2010, is from the head of northern military intelligence requesting permission to arm Lam Akol, a senior opposition figure, and other ‘friendly forces.’ A corresponding reply the next day grants the request.” (McClatchy News [dateline: Khartoum], March 15, 2011)

[4] “The SPLM also claim that a letter dated November 14, 2009, shows that the NCP leadership instructed all telecommunication companies operating in the north to intercept all phone calls of some key SPLM figures. Their phones numbers were listed in the confidential letter. Another document, dated August 27, 2009 from the north’s defense ministry called for the establishment of a ‘security committee’ to oversee the NCP’s alleged plan to destabilize South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which are in north Sudan but are home to groups which fought with the SPLM during the civil war that ended in 2005.” (Sudan Tribune, March 15, 2011)

Evidence confirming the import of these documents comes from other sources as well. For example, last August the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) captured in Upper Nile State a Khartoum-bound helicopter containing a number of Athor’s men, including his third in command. The Sudan Tribune reported (August 10, 2010):

“South Sudan said it has impounded a Khartoum-destined cargo helicopter carrying men loyal to George Athor, the man behind a rebellion against the government of the semi-autonomous region. The ruling party in southern Sudan, SPLM, accused ‘quarters in northern Sudan of supporting the renegade general in order to destabilize the south.’”

The dispatch continues:

“Intelligence sources in Jonglei state, speaking on condition of anonymity to Sudan Tribune, said that ‘the former commissioner of Pigi county, James Yhor, and other senior Athor’s military men were the ones found in the helicopter.’ The sources further added that the detained rebels were wounded and heading for hospital in northern Sudan to receive medical treatment.”

Predictably, though the incident was also confirmed by U.S. government intelligence, Khartoum simply dismissed the incident (“false accusations”) in much the same way it dismissed the documents released today.

There is also earlier evidence of Khartoum’s moving weapons and ammunition to the South. For example, The Telegraph (UK) reported from Malakal (August 15, 2009):

“The claim of a ‘hidden [Northern] hand’ behind at least some of the killing is supported by independent evidence. A ship recently arrived in Malakal having travelled up the Nile from Khartoum. A 30-year-old man, who saw the vessel being searched, told the Sunday Telegraph that it contained Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition, hidden beneath a cargo of food. Another 20-year-old man said the national army had tried to recruit him for a monthly salary of £200. Those who sought to entice him said they had been ordered to sign up 400 southerners in Malakal alone.” (The Telegraph [dateline: Malakal], August 15, 2009)

The Khartoum regime for years denied that it supported the maniacal and brutally destructive Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony. But as the International Crisis Group reported in a January 11, 2006 briefing paper: “Khartoum now admits that the LRA was given sanctuary and logistical support as part of a destabilization strategy and scorched earth campaign against Sudanese civilians.”

There is very strong circumstantial evidence that Khartoum continues to assist the LRA.


If the international community will simply look honestly at the evidence in hand and at the record of pronouncements by the SPLM and the NIF/NCP regime, assessing the authenticity of the documents released today is hardly a strenuous exercise. The documents are clearly authentic; Khartoum’s claim that they are mere forgeries is yet another expedient lie in an extremely long line. Insofar as the international community—including the African Union, the UN, the EU, and the United States—wishes to aid in negotiations in bringing the present dangerously tense situation to resolution, it must accept that there are not two truths being told today—only one. To accept Khartoum’s lies as in any way plausible is the surest way to encourage the regime to believe it can continue without consequence its mendacity and its concerted and conspicuously well-funded efforts to de-stabilize the South.

Agnosticism about the source of these documents—given their enormous implications—is simply not a reasonable diplomatic posture. If adopted, it will make renewed war more likely, not less.

[1] A highly authoritative source familiar with the documents has indicated to me that the SAF officers who leaked this information to the Southern leadership were discovered and subsequently executed by Khartoum. This would account for the precipitous end to the documentation the SPLM has provided. (email received March 15, 2011)

Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade.  He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.

Previous Post
Major Military Offensive by Khartoum Imminent in Abyei
Next Post
Abyei Update: Continued Military Advance by Khartoum’s Forces, Increasing Risk of Major Confrontation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.