Athor’s demise: any good lessons for other rebels still by and large?

By: Deng Riek Khoryoam, South Sudan

December 21, 2011 (SSNA) — The year 2011 is a year of mixed events: good and bad, evil and the opposite. There have been hilarious movements as well as bad or trying movements too. There have been tears of joy and tears of sadness and terrible grief for good or bad reasons. Overall, the most joyous part of it all was the raising of flag on July 9th that marked the independence of South Sudan; and that by itself was convincing enough for all nationalists to put aside whatever differences so as to embark on nation building process. The nation building, as we all know it, is a complex and complicated process with so many turns and twists; but if the entire nation’s citizens are on board, it can also be easy! It just needs determination, commitment and not the least, patience. It also needs to be handled with utmost care while ensuring that it’s started on a right foot. The rest would take care of itself.

The people of South Sudan had woken up yesterday to the news that the prominent rebel leader, George Athor Deng, was killed in Morobo County of Central Equatoria State on Monday 19th, in the evening at around 7:30 PM. This was announced in a press conference by the nation’s Vice President Dr. Riek MacharTeny. According to the media sources, including the BCC focus on Africa, the late rebel leader was on a “recruitment drive” when he entered the Country via Congo and the Central African Republic. It was clear that he wanted to recruit the youth in order to fight for him since he earlier on vowed for a bloody war in South Sudan. All in all, the bible’s teaching is very clear: that there is a beginning and an end to anything or everything on this earth. There is time for running the elections and a time for losing or wining such elections. There is time for killing innocent civilians in huge numbers and a time for carrying the cross yourself; a time for waging senseless armed rebellion, a time for an end to it. The news of his killing may have shocked people for good or bad reasons, but clearly so, it may have been greeted with mixed reactions.

Having gone through the popular online newspaper this morning, the Sudan Tribune, especially the commentary page, it was clear that there are those who may have celebrated his death either in silence or publicly and those who are grieving his passing, including his immediate family members (wives and children).Others wished he were still alive and the vice versa. Whatever may have been the case, all is in the past now; and it seems there is nothing we can do to bring him back to life however hard we try to imagine or perform miracles. Its better we console ourselves and move forward, because this world; as we know it does not belong to us, neither do we belong to it! It belongs to somebody else and that somebody else is none other than the loving father, the God of all creations. We are all here for a good purpose just as God created each one of us for that good purpose. Each one of us was created to do according to God’s will, not unto himself, as is the case practically. I may sound too religious here but it’s for a good reason: whatever I say here isn’t new but only serves as reminder because we are all aware of it!!

But who was George Athor Deng?

The late George Athor Deng was a renowned senior officer during the liberation struggle till the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement, which saw him rise through the ranks of Major General and Lt. General, respectively. Born in Wunlam in 1962, Jonglei State, George Athor was highly respected and known for his war strategies and liked by the late leader, John Garang. He was the commander for the greater Upper Nile in 2006, the post he held till 2008, and was believed to be the creation or chief cook of the infamous word “not confirmed” which he used to amass huge chunks of money to himself in the Army by then. He was appointed the deputy Chief of Staff for political moral orientation in the SPLA general headquarters, a position which he held till he contested the elections as an independent candidate in April last year after he failed to get a party nomination. He had forewarned that should he loss or be made to loss the gubernatorial post, the region will witness violence——saying it was better that he won the elections. He since then vowed more bloodshed in South Sudan after the results were announced in favour of his main rival, the then incumbent governor, Kuol Manyang. True to his words, it did happen.

He launched his first rebellious attack on Doleeb hill at the SPLA barrack there. He (Athor) massacred 300 civilians ruthlessly on February 9th, 2011. He also recently burned to ashes Atar and its surrounding villages. It’s strongly believed that he is responsible for arming civil populations in Jonglei State, causing havoc and unnecessary deaths of innocent civilians. He recently rejected peace agreement by putting on the negotiating table unrealistic demands, which aren’t for peaceful settlement to the one and half year-conflict. He then demanded 3 national ministerial portfolios, going for early general elections and financial compensation for his supporters. Out of the 3 stringent demands, only one last demand could be met by the government of the republic of South Sudan. The two are unrealistic now, so to speak! After the talks failed, the rebel leader vowed for more “bloody civil war” in the Country. In less than a month after the ‘behind the scene peace talks’ failed to come to fruition, he is now gone.

What lessons to other rebel leaders who are still by and large?

I think Athor’s demise sends a very clear signal to all those rebels and their leaders that are still holding arms against the government of South Sudan that their fate is uncertain if they continue to be used by the common enemy to destabilize our country. The government has offered an amnesty to all those who rebelled against it and we urge them to response in favour of that amnesty programme. We also urge the government to be honest and sincere in its amnesty issued earlier on by the President to all the rebel groups. It would be incumbent upon the rebels to either accept and respond favourably to the amnesty or follow the same fate met by Athor. The later is undesirable! I think Gatluak Gai and George Athor are a good lesson to all the rebels that are being used by Khartoum’s government to fight a proxy war in South Sudan.

It might be safe to assert that the people of South Sudan in general and the people of Jonglei State in particular will breathe freely and in peace, since the rebel’s position has been seriously weakened by the killing of George Athor. All may not be certain, but one thing is for sure certain: the smuggling of arms into South Sudan for the purpose of destabilization will sharply decrease or cease altogether since he was the only most trusted by the Jallaba in Khartoum. His passing is a serious blow to the rebels and their godfathers in Khartoum.

In conclusion, I think Athor was another Osama Bin Laden in South Sudan, and that was why it took the same precedent as done to Osama Bin Laden, the most feared global terrorist by then. Athor was also feared in South Sudan. I believe his rivals slept on the right side last night and may have woken up in relieve today. His death was announced by the Vice President Riek Machar (since the President of the republic Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit was on an official visit abroad) just like Osama’s death was also announced by President Obama of USA. The dead of General Athor Deng caught people by surprise and left people in absolute disbelief. By yesterday evening, others still couldn’t believe that Athor was no more on earth. There were mixed reactions, of course, as expected. There were those who didn’t wish him deathlike that and those who said he deserved it because he had killed so many innocent people. I belong to the former group!

The last group wishes him a happy Christmas wherever he’ll be put in heaven. I would have wished that he was captured alive and face justice…….but the peculiarity though is that our justice system is very weak and selective. Despite the fact that he killed the people of Fangak and the people of Atar, no one would rejoice over his killing. From the bottom of my good heart, I extend my heartfelt condolences to his immediate family members, who may have been devastated by this fateful killing of their loved one!! It might be too late for the blame-game now but I think the family is to be blamed for not having advised the late general well and wisely. What to do? That was his day planned for him by the superior father. We could attribute his death to greed for power and wealth. Too much love for power and wealth is very risky and dangerous. That is what killed Gaddafi and so many other African leaders. The rebels should now opt for peace talks on the table as opposed to fighting the government, which could result into the same predicament.

Watch out for even worse or more shocking news……..the republic of South Sudan is long gone and will never ever be re-united by force by anybody. Where is Thirik Mijak, the staunch supporter of George Athor and his rebellion?

The author leaves in South Sudan, he could be reached for comments at [email protected]

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