FIGHTING among rival rebel groups, and not drought, is the main
cause of the alarming levels of death and malnutrition in parts of
southern Sudan, according to officials of the United Nations World
Food Programme providing famine relief here.
The infighting is strongly condemned - by the UN, the United
States government, and the human rights group Amnesty International
- for adding to the misery of civilians in the region. But the
leaders of both sides, interviewed in this rebel stronghold in the
far south and in Nairobi, Kenya, say they are prepared to keep on
fighting each other for supremacy.
"It will only be a short time when we shall move," says Faustino
Atem Gualdit, a leader of a breakaway rebel group, warning of an
imminent attack on the main faction of the Sudanese People's
Liberation Army (SPLA), a largely non-Muslim movement based in the
south of the country, which has fought the Islamic regime in the
capital Khartoum since 1983.
Southerners fought Sudan's central government from 1955 until
1972, when the government granted the south more autonomy. The SPLA
was formed to resume the battle in 1983, after autonomy was
weakened and Islamic law or sharia was imposed throughout the
But since 1991, the rebels have fractured into several rival
groups, which have clashed occasionally. The frequency of such
battles has increased in recent weeks as three breakaway groups
have begun to work together, announcing their formal unity April 5
under the name SPLA United.
Interviews with rebel leaders and with independent, non-Sudanese
church and academic analysts provide new glimpses into the inner
workings of the SPLA. It is a world where dissident rebels
allegedly suffer long imprisonment in darkened, tightly packed
cells in the bush, and where SPLA leader Col. John Garang has lost
considerable support amid criticism that he is a dictator and a
poor military strategist.
And in an important political development, the rebel dissidents
have spoken out in favor of an independent southern Sudan. "We are
for independence, through negotiations - or fighting," an SPLA
United leader says.
Colonel Garang, who was educated in the US, has long favored a
stronger role for the south in a united Sudan free of religious
Recently, however, he has begun to speak of two confederated
states, one in the north and one in the south "sovereign in their
The few people who have analyzed the SPLA say that, for the most
part, Garang's army has shown little concern for the people it
claims to represent: the civilians of the south.
"I have found very few SPLA people who really care about their
people," says a church minister in Nairobi who spoke on condition
of anonymity. Two exceptions, the minister says, may be prominent
SPLA United leaders Lam Akol Ajawin and Kerubino Kwanyin Bol.
Garang, the minister adds, is definitely in this "for his own
The splits "probably begin with ... rivalries in the movement"
based not on political differences but on "very personal motives"
says Francis Deng, a Sudanese who is a senior fellow at the
Brookings Institution in Washington. Their motives are cloaked in
ideological justifications such as furthering democracy and human
rights, he adds.
Garang and SPLA United leaders have "lost all credibility in the
West" for pursing their rivalries while people are starving, says
history professor Robert Collins of the University of California at
James Michel, acting administrator of the US Agency for
International Development, recently blasted the fighting among the
rebels as "a callous disregard for human life among those who claim
to be fighting for the people of the region. …