13 - "Peace from within"
 Warlords and opportunists

Southern Sudanese have a profound mistrust of all northern-dominated governments. Many believe they were abruptly abandoned to the more powerful north at independence by the British, and feel cheated of their rights in their own country. Some view the northern parties in the NDA as potentially as untrustworthy as the NIF. Factors such as the rivalry between Nuer and Dinka, or dissatisfaction with John Garang's leadership of the SPLA, sometimes matters of sheer survival or simply blatant personal ambition, have led some to opt for deals with the NIF.

The NIF follows a long northern Sudanese tradition: it both creates and seizes any chance to divide and rule the south. It doles out arms and makes promises of power and wealth to dissident southern factions, but limits the distribution of ammunition, and keeps real power at arm's length.

Most Southerners given political appointments in the south are now sitting impotently in Khartoum while the NIF security organs are running the show in the lands they are supposed to govern.

The volatility of Southern Sudan's armed groups is demonstrated by the handful of ex-SPLA commanders turned local warlords who have become caught up in the government strategy of playing one southern group off against the other.

Former SPLA commanders including Riek Machar, Arok Thon Arok, Lam Akol and Kerubino Kuanyin broke with John Garang in the early 1990s and eventually signed a separate Khartoum Peace Agreement with the government in April 1997, under a process that the NIF regime described as "Peace from Within".

After the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement the government arranged with Riek Machar and Kerubino Kuanyin Bol to set up a buffer zone between the SPLA and the forces directly protecting the oil fields.

From his base in Gogrial, Kerubino Kuanyin was to use his forces in northern Bahr el-Ghazal to control the area from the north of the River Lol to Abyei, and then to link up with Riek Machar's forces in Upper Nile. The combined forces would be expected to confront any SPLA force advancing towards Bentiu.

"The NIF would … sit back and watch the spectacle of Southerner killing Southerner…."
(Sudan Democratic Gazette, October 1996)

 Kerubino Kwanyin Bol

In mid-January 1998 President Bashir appointed former guerrilla commander Maj-Gen Kerubino Kwanyin Bol as deputy president and minister for local government and public security in southern Sudan. It is believed Bashir offered the job to Kerubino because of his rivalry with Riek Machar, who had been made head of the Coordinating Council of Southern Sudan States.

Fifteen years earlier, in 1983, Kerubino - then a lieutenant-colonel - had led the mutiny in the southern town of Bor that sparked the current insurgency. For several years he was the number two in the SPLA led by John Garang, but the two men - who belong to different branches of the Dinka group - fell out in 1987. Garang imprisoned Kerubino after disagreements between the two men. Kerubino escaped in 1992 and fled to Uganda and then to Kenya.

Kerubino returned to Gogrial, northern Bahr al-Ghazal where, armed and supplied for years by the government to attack Dinka villages, his volatile and highly destructive role became a key factor in the regime's strategy against the SPLA.

His "SPLA-Bahr al-Ghazal" faction, now aligned with Khartoum, claimed to have driven Garang's SPLA-Mainstream out of northern Bahr al-Ghazal state in December 1996. Kerubino's militia captured a key airport, took foreign aid workers hostage and seized food that an [un-named] international aid organisation had, in his words, "delivered to SPLA-Mainstream".

In January 1998 Defence Minister Lt-Gen Hassan Abd al-Rahman Ali praised Kerubino for orchestrating mass defections of rebel SPLA troops in the Bahr al-Ghazal region. But it turned out to be a Trojan Horse operation: once inside the regional capital, Wau, the returnees began capturing the town for the SPLA. Kerubino had changed sides again.

While he failed to capture Wau, the second largest town in South, and two other towns, "Some 100,000 Dinka and Jur in those towns fled in fear of retaliation, heading straight into a rural area where some 250,000 people were already at risk of famine because of drought and continual raiding. Hundreds of civilians who did not flee Wau were massacred by government forces in the days following..." (Human Rights Watch 18 March 1999)

The implications for security in the southwest were serious, since the government had lost an important buffer force between SPLA territory and the oilfields. Later in 1998 Kerubino again fell out with Garang and tried to realign himself with the pro-government forces. He took shelter with Paulino Matiep, the Bentiu-area warlord to whom he was related by marriage. Bentiu is on the border between the Unity and 5A oil concessions.

Kerubino met his death in September 1999. A spokesman for Paulino Matiep's pro-government South Sudan United Army (SSUA) said that a disaffected commander, Peter Gadiet, had tried to defect to the main SPLA with 150 men after an "unsuccessful" attempt to depose Matiep. Kerubino had intervened and been wounded and captured along with five SSUA officers in Mankien, 900km SW of Khartoum. The officers were executed by Gadiet in Mankien; Kerubino died of his injuries. On 21 October, Gadiet, having sided with the SPLA, was reported to be bombarding Bentiu. Talisman stressed that its base was at Heglig, which it insisted was a safe distance away - a matter of 70-100 kilometres. 

 Western Upper Nile

Paulino Matiep has been operating as a Nuer warlord in Western Upper Nile oil field area for the last two decades. Initially an "AnyaNya 2" militia leader, Paulino was never in the mainstream SPLA, but has been intermittently armed and supplied by the government.

Matiep, now a major-general in the army, left the Southern Sudan Defence Force in late 1997. His fighters and government troops clashed with Riek Machar's SSDF forces for control of Unity state oilfields in 1998 and1999.

He was boosted by the government as a counterbalance to Riek Machar in January 1998, after Kerubino Kuanyin Bol's temporary defection to the SPLA.

In 1998 and 1999 Paulino Matiep destroyed Nuer villages, clinics and schools, put some 150,000 displaced people at risk of famine and disease, and effectively prevented UN relief reaching them.
(Famine in Sudan, 1998 - The Human Rights Causes - Human Rights Watch)

Riek Machar, the leader of the United Democratic Salvation Front and its military wing, the Southern Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF), is also Sudan's assistant president and president of the south.

As leader of the breakaway Southern Sudan Independence Movement, a mainly Nuer SPLA splinter group, Riek Machar signed a provisional peace treaty with Khartoum in April 1996. He went on television after the SPLA-NDA opened a new offensive on the eastern border towns of Kurmuk and Geissan in January 1997, pledging his troops to fight alongside the government. Machar said the joint offensive by northern and southern opponents of the regime was aimed at undermining the peace process in which his group and that of Kerubino Kwanyin Bol, who also signed the 1996 peace accord, were involved.

"The political charter ... stipulates we should all defend the homeland," Machar said.

But by late 1999, Riek was losing many of his Nuer supporters and appeared to be in limbo, having declared the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement to be a failure but unwilling to risk rejoining the SPLA.

Photographs: Peter Moszynski   


In Western Upper Nile, Riek Machar struggled for control of Sudan’s main oil fields with Paulino Matiep. Both men are ethnic Nuer, a Nilotic people related to the Dinka. Matiep, now a major-general in the army, left the SSDF in late 1997. In 1998 the government arranged four ceasefires between them; none held.

Heavy fighting in January 1998 between Matiep's SSUA and Machar's SSDF prompted the government to send a planeload of high-level delegates to the region, including vice president El-Zubair Mohamed Salih and the governor of the region, Taban Deng, as well as Machar himself, who was now "Assistant President". El-Zubair died in a plane crash the next month. Matiep refused to stop fighting; he demanded an immediate halt to the petroleum operation and denounced any agreement Machar had signed.

Amid concern that the Chinese CNPC's employees and assets in Bentiu were threatened, Khartoum television spent two days broadcasting pictures of CNPC sites looking peaceful.

 South of Bentiu: Block 5A

There has been extended fighting in 1999 between the government (and its militia proxies) and Nuer ex-rebels over oil fields south of Bentiu known as Block 5A, in Nuer territory.

In September 1999 Derek Hammond, a 43-year-old South African, witnessed government troops razing Leer town and met hundreds of families living in squalid conditions.

"Thousands of people living in the swamps and hiding on little islands amongst the swamps. Many of the people were naked. They were living off fish that were in the swamp and the stagnant swamp waters."

"I was stunned. I have travelled through many of the war areas of Africa and I have never seen anything quite like that in terms of disease, the heat, the insects, the stomach bugs that people have got." (National Post, Canada, 20 November 1999)

Mr Hammond, of Faith in Action, travelled with two colleagues to Block 5A, just south of the properties leased by Calgary's Talisman Energy, delivering food, medicine and clothing supplies to the displaced Sudanese. On 27 September 1999, he says, he watched as government planes bombed the village of Mayon.

On 28 September, he said, government forces set fire to the nearby town of Leer, about 15 kilometres from the fishing camp where the Sudanese refugees lived.

"Leer was being burnt to the ground.
The black clouds were hanging in the air."

Block 5A is being developed by Sweden's Lundin Oil, Austria's OMV and Malaysia's Petronas. Activities have been suspended since May 1999 because of the war. The fighting started at the site of an exploratory well, over who was going to "defend" (i.e control) the oil locations: the government or the Nuer ex-rebels. It was continuing at the end of the year.

Block 5A was not economically feasible until Talisman completed the pipeline to neighbouring Heglig and Unity. The prospect of bringing this oil-rich area into production turned Block 5A - which has no other military value and was largely untouched by the war until 1998 - the scene of the worst fighting of 1999.


Tito Biel, a high-ranking SSDF commander, led three other officers and an unspecified number of soldiers in a mutiny in Lakes State in early May 1999. Biel had previously led Riek Machar's SSDF forces in clashes with government troops and men of Maj-Gen Paulino Matiep. Biel was forced to move south of Leer; he arrived at Yirol and announced that he had gone over to the SPLA.

An MP for Unity State, Tot Galwak, said Biel's defection was "a secret part" of the important church-mediated Nuer-Dinka peace agreement at Wunlit some two months earlier. He claimed this provided for "gradual" defections from the SSDF to the SPLA.

The SPLA claimed in May 1999 that armed Sudanese had taken captive 23 oil workers employed by the Chinese National Petroleum Corp during a week of fighting in Bentiu.

Yasser Arman said that residents in Bentiu "revolted against the oil companies working in the area," and took the experts captive. The SPLA was not involved in the kidnappings, Arman said, but is willing to provide support. Bentiu residents, he said, are demanding the government apportion a share of oil revenues to local services and development projects. They revolted against government troops and were joined by members of Machar's SSDF. In Khartoum, Machar said the clashes resulted from "a misunderstanding among field commanders."

On 11 May 1999 there were fresh clashes between government troops and the SSDF at Mayen Dit, north of Leer in Unity state. Makuac Teny Youk, state minister for National Development in the Khartoum government and spokesman for the UDSF, blamed the government for the violence. He said the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement had put oilfields in Unity under SSDF control and that an increase in government troop numbers in Leer in early May cast doubt on "the government's sincerity towards achieving peace and eliminated the chances of success of the forthcoming peace negotiations" [with the SPLA].

Youk said Paulino Matiep's SSUA militia had detained 75 government officials in Unity state. "Most of these officials have been moved to Mankien where Matiep has his headquarters and we have great fear for their lives."

"Daylight robbery" - by government helicopter

He also accused Matiep of removing furniture from government offices in Bentiu, the Unity state capital, and taking them to Mankien in a government helicopter. "This is daylight robbery."

Youk said the UDSF had informed the government of Matiep's activities, but there had been no response. "It is as if we are talking to ourselves," he complained.

Riek Machar had left the National Congress in order to lead the UDSF as a political party. Now, Youk said, the government was using Matiep to put pressure on him. He said the government wanted Machar to abandon the UDSF and rejoin the ruling National Congress, but such tactics only raised doubts about its commitment to the Khartoum peace accord.

Augustino Aremo, secretary of the Southern Sudan department in the National Congress, denied that the government was trying to wreck the Khartoum Peace Agreement. But he admitted that it wanted to persuade Machar to rejoin the ruling party.

In June 1999 a splinter group named the UDSF Collective Leadership said Machar was no longer capable of leading them. Headed by Machar's close aide and office director Weles Wal Bang, (deputy secretary general of the South Sudan Coordination Council), they pulled out of the USDF's armed wing, the South Sudan Defence Force (SSDF), and demanded that Machar be dismissed from both wings.

The group also called for reunification with Paulino Matiep and other groups in Unity State that had already split from the UDSF and had clashed with Riak Machar's SSDF fighters.

Machar also faces accusations by rival south Sudanese officials that he has been sympathising with the SPLA, since John Garang had asked him to re-think and return to the rebel ranks.

 UPPER NILE - Malakal
Lam Akol
Former University of Khartoum lecturer Lam Akol has an MSc in petroleum engineering and a PhD in copper extraction. He was the architect, together with Riek Machar, of the 1991 split in the SPLA, which began as an attempt to replace John Garang as leader. He later fell out with Riek, was reduced to leading a force of his Shilluk kinsfolk - ironically called SPLA-United - and after prolonged pressure eventually signed up to Khartoum's 1997 Peace Agreement. After the 1998 defection of Kerubino Kuanyin in Wau, Lam Akol kept a low profile in Khartoum.

14 - Red Sea