Khartoum's Arming of Renegade Rebel Elements: A serious threat to peace in South Sudan

Eric Reeves, 26 June 2015

On June 22, 2015 former Secretary-General of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) Pagan Amum flew to Juba; on June 23 he was re-instated by the government as Secretary-General of the SPLM, the dominantly ruling party in the Government of South Sudan. He also promised to make an apology to the people of South Sudan for the terrible suffering that has been endured and will continue indefinitely, given the overwhelming needs of people who have been uprooted, killed, lost family. Millions are without nearly adequate resources as the rainy season begins in earnest and humanitarian access is severely limited. Pagan Amum was one of the so-called "former detainees"-people who were convinced that a major change in governance in the South was needed, but refused to seek to effect change through violence. His re-instatement is a major event, and was rightly the headline in the Sudan Tribune: 

Pagan Amum reinstated as SPLM secretary-general
Sudan Tribune, June 23, 2015 (JUBA)

The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) on Tuesday endorsed reinstatement of Pagan Amum as secretary-general of the South Sudan's ruling party, in implementation of Arusha agreement to end the 19-month-conflict. On 21 January 2015 the three factions of the SPLM in government, SPLM in opposition and the former detainees signed the Agreement on the Reunification of the SPLM in Arusha, Tanzania and vowed to work together to secure reforms and national unity. The Arusha roadmap accord also aims to support the IGAD-brokered process aiming to end the violent conflict that erupted on 15 December 2013.

A month later, the parties on 17 February agreed on the implementation mechanisms and called on South Sudan's president Salva Kiir, who is also the chairman of the SPLM-in government, to revoke the decision that dismissed party leaders.

On Monday, the former secretary-general returned to Juba as his group said they are resolved to turn the page on the past events and look forward to achieve peace, reconciliation and national unity. An emergency SPLM National Liberation Council (NLC) early on Tuesday reinstated Amum in accordance with the Arusha deal after President Kiir reportedly asked the lawmaking body of the SPLM to revoke his February 2013 decree on the dismissal of the party's secretary general.

After being sworn in late on Tuesday, Amum told reporters that he will organize an apology rally to the south Sudanese affected by the war triggered by SPLM power struggle, as it is provided in the Arusha agreement. "We shall apologize to the public and I hope we shall do our best to end the war," he told reporters.

But even as the key group of "former detainees" was prepared to bring an end to conflict and reconcile with Juba, there were ominous signals from Riek Machar-nominal leader of the third party in negotiations at Arusha that produced the "Agreement on the Reunification of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement." Sudan Tribune also reports:

The leader of the SPLM-in Opposition and former vice-president Riek Machar met last weekend with the Kenyan president to discuss the ongoing processes to reunify the SPLM and bring peace in the country. But nothing filtered from the encounter. Also the leadership of [the] rebel movement, which seems more interested in IGAD-led peace process, is holding consultations meeting in Nairobi on issues pertaining to the promotion of [the] peace process. The SPLM-IO says there is a need to address the root causes of the conflict and reach genuine reforms in order to achieve a meaningful peace agreement that will ensure no future return to similar differences and crisis in the country.

IGAD mediation is widely regarded as a disastrous diplomatic failure, and even though there is promise of an "IGAD+" to re-energize talks, it is clear that the Arusha agreement, signed by Riek Machar and the SPLA/iO, is now the best basis on which to proceed. And while few dispute the need for the "root causes of the conflict" to be addressed, this cannot be achieved by more fighting, more violence, more civilian destruction. It is difficult to believe that Riek is serious about negotiations when he does not enthusiastically embrace an accord that he signed and which is now being put into motion by the other two of the three parties. This is in part because he sees that it is unlikely that he will have a major role to play in the future of South Sudan, except as a spoiler. Certainly he has the military resources to prolong the war. And many of these resources, we know, have come from Khartoum (see Appendix A and ).

Another deeply ominous threat to peace in South Sudan

But beyond Riek's obduracy, and at the very moment that hopes have emerged for the beginning of peace in South Sudan-wracked for a year and a half by terrible ethnic violence, destruction, and displacement-a grave new threat to these peace efforts has surfaced. In a letter from now renegade rebel commanders of the SPLA/iO Simon Gatwech DualPeter Gadet Yak, Gathoth Gatkouth Hothnhyang, and Gabriel Tanginya-directly to Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir-we find a request that arms shipments from Khartoum be sent specifically to them at specific locations. The letter (stamped June 20, 2015-presumably the date of filing: the letter is "cc'd" to "File"; reference to events of June 13/14 appear within the letter) indicates that these commanders/generals no long trust Riek as nominal head of the SPLA/in Opposition (SPLA/iO). Consequently, they want a direct arms and materiel pipeline from the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime. Below is a verbatim transcription of the original text, written in English; photographic copy of the entire original letter appears at , including three short introductory paragraphs not transcribed immediately below, but celebrating al-Bashir as savior of the Nuer people:

Your excellency [President Omar al-Bashir], we are not happy with the way Dr. Riek [Machar] and Taban Deng [Gai] are handling the logistics you offers to us. Due to that reason, that is why the operation is not going well on the ground in South Sudan and we don't understand how the logistics is being managed. Therefore your Excellency we don't want politicians to run our military logistics for political reasons hence, we would like the military supplies to come directly to the military council under command of Chief of General Staffs, Simon Gatwech Dual. As follows:

[1] Logistics supply to Unity State should go under direct command of Gen. Peter Gadet Yak

[2] Logistics supply to Upper Nile state should go under direct command of Gen. Gathoth Gatkuoth and Maj. Gen. Johnson Olony

[3] Logistics supply to Jonglei State should go under direct command of Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual and Gen. Gabriel Tanginya

[4] Logistics supply to Greater Equatoria should go under direct command of Gen. Martin Kenyi

[5] Logistics supply to Greater Bahr El Ghazal should go under direct command of Gen. Dau Aturjong and Maj. Gen. Thomas Bazylio

Hence, your excellency, we have already sent Gen. Gabriel Tanginya ahead of us to facilitate our meeting meanwhile we are humbly requesting a meeting with you in persons if possible on your free time in Khartoum. Your positive reply will be highly appreciated.


[1]  Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual, Chief of General Staffs, SPLA/iO -- Pagak, General Head Quarters

South Sudan

[2]  Gen. Peter Gadet Yak

        [3]  Gen. Gathoth Gatkuoth Hothnhyang

        [4]  Gabriel Tanginya

        [5]  Files

[I received this letter today from a source of unsurpassable reliability, someone with extensive contacts throughout South Sudan and with all three negotiating camps (the SPLA/Juba, the "former detainees," and the SPLO/iO). The letter is authentic.]

For "logistics" let us be clear: this is a rubric for all military and material assistance to the SPLA/iO, and the evidence to date is that this assistance has been highly substantial. And as all sane observers well understand, such provision of weaponry, arms, ammunition, and supplies can only increase the level of already horrific violence and make true peace a great deal more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in South Sudan. I will return to the letter in more detail in a subsequent analysis, but focus here on Peter Gadet Yak, in many ways the most notoriously brutal of the rebel commanders. Other men named in the letter, however, including Gabriel Tanginya and Johnson Olony, have been leaders of brutal militia groups that have fought the creation of a peaceful South Sudan, and did so long before the events of December 2013.

Peter Gadet is notorious for having no commitment to the people of the South, but only to his own military and personal ambitions. Although celebrated by many Nuer because of his ethnicity, Gadet is the worst sort of warlord: not only has he no real allegiance to a cause or his people, but he is perversely skilled as a military commander. He was sought by both sides for this reason during the long civil war (1983 - 2005), changing sides a half dozen times. As Sudan Tribune has accurately reported, Gadet's various defections during the war "always drastically shifted the balance of power over who controlled Unity State." He moved from the SPLA to Khartoum's military (as a militia leader but with SAF rank), then back to the SPLA...and so on. He accumulated a long record of atrocity crimes in in the process.

Most conspicuously in the past year Gadet's forces shot down a UN Mi8 cargo helicopter on August 26, 2014 (he had impounded a UN helicopter three days previously, subjecting the crew to a brutal forced march, during which one member of the crew died). Several days before this Gadet had threatened, during a telephone conversation with the UN air controller at Bentiu, to shoot down any UN helicopter approaching Bentiu-and was as good as his word (the conversation was intercepted by Juba intelligence; tape available upon request). Three Russian pilots were killed. The UN delayed for many months the results of their "investigation" of the shoot-down, but in the end expediently concluded that there was not enough evidence to name Gadet as the responsible party. This was undoubtedly a decision made so as not to antagonize Gadet and provoke retaliatory attacks. The grim precedent set here will come back to haunt the UN in future operations.

In the past Gadet was a leader of what were designated at the time of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (signed in January 2005) "Other Armed Groups," all of them were to have been disarmed and demobilized. Khartoum, in violation of the CPA, ensured this did not happen by supplying its former Southern militia allies with weapons and money. Gadet again quit the SPLA/M in 2011, having finally rejoined two years earlier. And in December 2013 he was quick to join Riek Machar's SPLA-in Opposition and was responsible for some of the worst atrocities seen so far in the conflict, specifically in Bentiu. There, in April 2014, hundreds of ethnic Dinka were killed, many in the most barbarous fashion imaginable.

It is hardly surprising that Gadet was one of the first two persons to be sanctioned by the U.S. and European Union. In May 2014 the U.S. imposed sanctions on Gadet for "the targeting of civilians and fomenting ethnic violence," which the State Department said were "contributing to the mounting humanitarian and human rights catastrophe unfolding in South Sudan." Gadet was of course far from alone-but even among the brutal actors in the violence that wracks South Sudan, Gadet stands out.

This is the man who has appealed with his fellow (now renegade) SPLA/iO rebels-with every expectation that their request will be honored-to al-Bashir and the Khartoum regime for a direct pipeline for arms and materiel.


What should be noted first is that despite nominal control of all elements of the SPLA/iO, Riek Machar clearly has and has never had such control. Indeed, as I have long argued, command-and-control difficulties have made it impossible for the SPLA/iO to maintain any real cohesion or even continuous communication among its heterogeneous parts. What is occurring in Upper Nile, in Unity, in Jonglei, in the Equatorias, and in Western Bahr el-Ghazal has no central planning, no strategic objective other than bringing down an elected government by force.

To be sure, the government of Salva Kiir had behaved badly and irresponsibly at various points prior to the outbreak of violence; and after the violence began, the ethnic inflection of brutal killings was clear to all, primarily involving Dinka and Nuer, but to a lesser degree the Shilluk and even some small groups such as the Mabaan. In Jonglei, the recently achieved rapprochement between Juba and the rebellion led by David Yau Yau of the Murle tribe has been fragile (David Yau Yau's "Other Armed Group" was long supported by Khartoum via airdrops-airdrops of precisely the sort conducted by the regime in Upper Nile, a fact established beyond reasonable doubt in a recent report by Conflict Armament Research (their full report appears here as Appendix A; see also Small Arms Survey report of May 2014: "Weapons Tracing in Sudan and South Sudan," which unsurprisingly concludes: "Sudanese security forces are the primary source of weapons to non-state armed groups in Sudan and South Sudan, through deliberate arming and battlefield capture").

None of this matters to Khartoum, nor has the regime been made to pay a price for its immensely destructive provisions of arms and ammunition to those whose violence serves the regime's purposes. As is made abundantly clear in remarks by several participants in the August 31, 2014 meeting of the most senior military and security officials of the regime, arming the SPLA/iO was considered tactically and politically a wise move. Weakening the South, encouraging the fighting of Southerner against Southerner, has long been the regime's modus operandi, and it continues to be. Excerpts from the August 31, 2014 minutes (exhaustively vetted and overwhelming judged authentic-see ) reveal clearly a commitment by the regime to provide strategically significant quantities of weapons, as well as critical military intelligence, to the rebel forces in South Sudan, specifically the Sudan People's Liberation Army-in Opposition (SPLA/iO).

Statements of note (editorial comments appear in italics, in blue, with my initials following):

Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein:

"The people of South Sudan must accept to meet us and tell us their opinion on the drawing of the zero line and the buffer zone.  If they refuse, we can deal with them in a manner that suits the threat they pose to us. I met Riek, Dhieu [Mathok] and Taban [Deng Gai, former Governor of Unity State and Riek's number two in command] and they are regretting the decision to separate the South and we decided to return his house to him. He requested that we assist him and that he has a shortage in [Military Intelligence] personnel, operations command, and tank technicians. We must use the many cards we have against the South in order to give them unforgettable lesson" (page 22 - 23 of English translation).

General Hashim Abdalla Mohammed, [former] Deputy Chief of Joint General Staff:

"We must change the balance of forces in South Sudan. Riek, Taban and Dhieu Mathok came and requested support in the areas of training in [Military Intelligence], and especially in tanks and artillery. They requested armament also. They want to be given advanced weapons. Our reply was that we have no objection, provided that we agree on a common objective. Then we train and supply them with the required weapons..."

"Now they [Riek and Taban] are fighting to achieve a federal system or self-rule for each region. I think any self-rule for Greater Upper Nile is good for us in terms of border security, oil resources, and trade. Now we have to study how to enable them to create a well-trained force with efficient [Military Intelligence] and logistics staff." (page 16)

General (PSC) Imadadiin Adawi, [former] Chief of Joint Operations:

"[Juba is] still supporting the two divisions of Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile [This is simply not true in any significant sense now, if it ever was-more self-reinforcing mendacity within the regime, used as a means of explaining the crushing military defeats suffered earlier in the Nuba-ER]. Accordingly, we must provide Riek forces with big support in order to wage the war against Juba and clean the whole of Greater Upper Nile area." (page 14)

General Siddig Amir, [former] Director of Military Intelligence and Security expressed a willingness to invade South Sudan surreptitiously:

"The South is still supporting the rebels with the aim to change our government in Khartoum. In order to counter that danger, we are pre-empting them by a plan to infiltrate and empty the refugee camps [Unity State and Blue Nile State in South Sudan-ER], recruit field commanders, and train the sons of the war-affected areas to fight and defeat the rebellion [by the SPLA-N-ER]." (page 11)

Vice President and General Bakri Hassan Saleh:

"Recognize Dr. Riek's liaison office and provide all organs necessary for their protection and security." (page 28)

Given such views of South Sudan, it is hardly surprising that Gadet and his partners would confidently make such a request as reflected in the letter of.... Moreover, Khartoum is increasingly in a position to supply a range of state and non-state actors with a wide range of weapons. Indeed, the regime constantly boasts about its military hardware and is now the third largest weapons producer in Africa (only South Africa and Egypt produce more). Just today (June 24, 2015) Sudan Tribune reports:

 Sudanese president says army possesses "sophisticated" force | June 23, 2015 (KHARTOUM) The Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir declared that the army has become recently came into possession of resources that made it a "large and sophisticated deterrent force" with the ability to protect and secure the country from any internal and external dangers.

Khartoum is also aggressively marketing its military hardware, as Small Arms Survey (SAS) reported earlier this year:

Sudan's Military Industry Corporation display at the 2015 IDEX convention

On 22-26 February 2015, manufacturers from more than 50 countries gathered at the 2015 International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi, UAE, to showcase their military products. Sudan's Military Industry Corporation (MIC) was among the largest presenters. Sur International, a Sudanese, Turkish, and Qatari conglomerate that produces military uniforms and gear also displayed its goods. This marks the second time that MIC has presented its products at an international weapon convention (the first time was at the previous biannual IDEX conference, in 2013).

The Small Arms Survey noted a marked increase in the number and types of Sudanese weapons on display at this year's conference in comparison to 2013. Sudan was also a much more prominent participant: Sudanese president Omar al Bashir was the only head of state in attendance at the opening ceremony. This would appear to confirm a previous Small Arms Survey report that the MIC is stepping up efforts to attract international buyers for its military products.

The United Arab Emirates are part of a disgracefully long list of states allowing indicted génocidaire al-Bashir to enter its borders and make no effort to arrest him, despite an International Criminal Court warrant atrocity crimes in Darfur were referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council more than ten years ago).

The weapons photographed and on display in the SAS report are in many cases sophisticated and capable of shifting the military balance of power in certain conflict arenas (they include, for example anti-tank missiles, multiple rocket launcher systems; Khartoum is also manufacturing self-propelled mortar systems). These weapons of war were developed by the regime's "Military Industry Corporation," and at very considerable capital costs, even as the country's economy continues to implode and one third of all Sudanese are malnourished. Wheat for bread can't be imported because there are no hard currency reserves; this has created increasing bread shortages and bread lines. The same is true for cooking and automotive fuel. Water shortages are growing as neglected infrastructure begins to crumble. The MIC is a supreme example of misguided budgetary priorities, and yet-as has long been the case-the IMF says nothing.

There must be immediate consequences for this threat to peace in South Sudan

If the Khartoum regime accedes to the request for direct military assistance to the breakaway commanders, there should be extremely serious near-term consequences, including a total shutdown of all Western commercial and economic relations. The euro should become as difficult a currency for the regime to use in the international banking system as the dollar now is-something long overdue as a sanctions measure by countries that use the euro.

This is a matter of the greatest urgency. There can be no justification whatsoever for arming men such as Peter Gadet, and international actors of consequence should put themselves explicitly on the record in saying as much. Not to do so implicitly gives Khartoum a green light to provide the weapons and supplies that may well sustain the catastrophic fighting that has come close to destroying South Sudan.


Appendix A: (see also )

Conflict Armament Research, June 2015 | DISPATCH FROM THE FIELD

WEAPONS AND AMMUNITION AIR-DROPPED TO SPLA-in OPPOSITION FORCES IN SOUTH SUDAN: Equipment captured by the Sudan People's Liberation Army in Jonglei State in November 2014

Fighting between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the SPLA-in Opposition (SPLA-iO) forces has been ongoing in the Greater Upper Nile region of South Sudan since December 2013. The town of Malakal in Upper Nile state repeatedly changed hands during the first three months of the crisis. On 19 March 2014, the SPLA secured Malakal and surrounding areas and maintained full control until mid-May 2015, when the SPLA-iO launched a new wave of offensives in Upper Nile State. [All emphases in bold have been added; all editorial comments are in italics, in blue, followed by my initials - ER]

Each party to the conflict captured military equipment during the fighting. This Dispatch from the Field documents a sample recovered by the SPLA from SPLA-iO forces in Pigi County, Jonglei State, in November 2014. The sample, which a Conflict Armament Research (CAR) investigation team examined in SPLA Sector II Headquarters in Malakal on 11 December 2014provides important insights into the supply of weapons to SPLA-iO forces.

Notably, the weapons and ammunition documented display clear evidence of damage sustained during airdrops to SPLA-iO units, which reportedly took place in September-October 2014. Furthermore, the materiel is identical to previously documented arms and ammunition airdropped by Sudan to rebels in South Sudan in 2012, which provides strong indication of new, direct supplies from Sudan to SPLA-iO operations.


Most of the ammunition documented had suffered heavy impact damage, which is consistent with eyewitness reports that aircraft dropped materiel to SPLA-iO forces in Upper Nile State in September-October 2014. [Note the dates that follow the August 31 meeting at which a commitment to support the SPLA-iO was made - ER]

The composition of the documented materiel, and a precedent for airdropping identical materiel to rebel forces in South Sudan in 2012, prior to the current conflict, suggests direct supply from Sudan to SPLA-iO forces.

Observers on the ground also report that, throughout the month of December 2014, aircraft dropped additional military equipment to SPLA-iO units in Upper Nile and Jonglei States.

70 per cent of the 7.62 x 39 mm ammunition documented is Sudanese-manufactured, with the majority produced in 2014. The recent date of manufacture is further evidence of direct supply from Khartoum to SPLA-iO forces.

The SPLA-iO used 2014-manufactured Sudanese ammunition prior to the September-December 2014 airdrops in Jonglei [again, following the August 31 meeting - ER]-including in its April 2014 attack on a mosque in Bentiu. This suggests more than one case of supply from Khartoum to the SPLA-iO.

All of the 7.62 x 54R mm ammunition documented is Sudanese-manufactured and dates from 2011-14. The 2011 rounds are identical to ammunition supplied by Sudan to rebel forces in South Sudan in 2012, prior to the current conflict-including in airdrops of materiel.

Chinese 12.7 x 108 mm ammunition documented is identical to ammunition supplied by Khartoum to South Sudanese rebel forces in 2012, prior to the current conflict.

The serial number of a Chinese-manufactured Type 56-1 falls within the same sequence as rifles supplied by Sudan to South Sudanese rebel forces in 2011, prior to the current conflict.

The types of materiel airdropped to support SPLA-iO operations in Jonglei State mirror weapon types that Sudan has supplied to support armed or insurgent forces elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, including in Darfur and the Central African Republic.

[M]uch of the ammunition inspected in Malakal, captured from the Khorflus area, was heavily damaged. Analysis of the damage indicates that many items have been crushed by a heavy impact. There is no indication (such as burning or scorching) to suggest the damage is the result of explosive blast effects. Rather, the small arms cartridges and tubes containing rockets concerned appear to have suffered lateral impact damage, which is consistent with either free-fall dropping from an aircraft or very low altitude parachute dropping.

Sudanese-manufactured cartridges comprise almost 70 per cent of the 7.62 x 39 mm sample (168 of 243). These cartridges are typical of post-2008 Sudanese manufacture and feature copper-clad steel cases, red primer seals, and triple-entry headstamps.

Nearly all (98 per cent) of them date from 2014, which indicates a very short chain of custody (11 months maximum and plausibly shorter) from production in Khartoum to delivery to SPLA-iO forces in South Sudan.



Eric Reeves 
Smith College
Northampton, MA  01063

       Skype: ReevesSudan