(Reuters) - South Sudanese leaders said on Tuesday more than 200 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in attacks by renegade militia leader George Athor in the region’s Jonglei state.
Following are some facts about Athor, a destabilizing force in the oil-producing region as it prepares for independence on July 9.
-- George Athor was an influential commander in the southern army and veteran of the south’s long civil war with the north before he rebelled last year. Records show he remained loyal to then rebel leader John Garang during a major rift in the movement in the 1990s. He rose to the rank of lieutenant-general.
-- Athor was one of a handful of prominent members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) who felt overlooked when the party nominated candidates for last April’s presidential and legislative elections. He stood as an independent for the governorship of the south’s swampy Jonglei state and lost to SPLM incumbent Kuol Manyang.
-- The first sign of Athor’s revolt came in an attack on a southern army barracks on Doleib Hill, on the border with neighboring Upper Nile state in late April. The southern army said Athor’s men, backed up by supporters inside the barracks, seized arms and ammunition. Athor denied direct involvement in the attack, saying soldiers loyal to him rebelled after receiving orders to arrest him.
-- Athor’s demands have varied over time. Soon after his revolt, he accused the SPLM of rigging the election. He told Reuters he wanted Manyang to be replaced as governor of Jonglei, the removal of the state’s county commissioners and an amnesty for his troops. Several times over the following months, he said he was ready for talks about unspecified democratic reforms. Both sides continue to say they are open to reconciliation.
-- Reports of the size of Athor’s rebel force have varied widely. The southern army said he attacked the Doleib barracks with up to 140 men. In later clashes, the army said he only had a handful of supporters left, most loyalists from his home Pigi county. Southern army spokesman Philip Aguer said on Tuesday he thought Athor now had about 2,000 troops. Athor himself says he leads a force of thousands, capable of taking major centers across the south.
-- U.N. officials and other analysts initially feared Athor was planning to join forces with other renegade militia leaders who either launched or threatened uprisings at the same time. After a series of clashes, Athor’s forces remained focused in remote border areas between Jonglei and Upper Nile. Some of the other renegades eventually accepted a pardon offered by southern president Salva Kiir in October.
-- Athor finally agreed a truce with Juba in early January, days before voting started in south Sudan’s independence referendum, a vote promised in the 2005 accord that ended Sudan’s north-south civil war. Southerners overwhelmingly voted for independence in results released last week. Celebrations were marred by a series of outbreaks of violence, capped by the clashes in Jonglei. Athor accused the SPLA of starting the fighting.
-- SPLM leaders have accused Khartoum of flying in arms and cash for Athor’s troops in a bid to destabilize the region. They say Khartoum wants to keep control of the south’s oil. Both Athor and Khartoum dismiss the accusations. The southern army said Athor’s men have recently been laying landmines and attacked Jonglei’s Fangak and Door settlements last week with machine guns and AK-47s.
-- Both Athor and Kuol Manyang are members of the south’s Dinka people, though from different sub-groups.
Reporting by Andrew Heavens and Jeremy Clarke; Editing by Jon Hemming