A former Southern Sudan militia leader currently serving as a general in Sudan’s army began talks with the semi-autonomous region’s leader to switch sides ahead of an independence referendum next year.
“We have not reached that conclusion, but we are in the process of negotiating,” Sudanese Armed Forces Major-General Gabriel Tanginye said in an interview after a meeting today with Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir in the capital, Juba.
“The president is my brother and he is my leader,” he said.
Tanginye led a southern border militia allied to the Khartoum government during Sudan’s 21-year civil war that ended in 2005. Two million people died in the conflict. Under a peace deal that ended the war, Southern Sudan gained self-rule before a January 2011 referendum in which it can choose to secede and form a new country.
Members of the Sudanese Armed Forces loyal to Tanginye in Malakal, a southern city near Sudan’s north-south border, clashed with Southern Sudan’s military, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, in 2006 and 2009 in breach of the peace deal. The fighting in 2006 left about 150 people dead, according to the United Nations.
Last week, Kiir pardoned Tanginye as well as other renegade militia leaders, including former SPLA General George Athor, who attacked an SPLA barracks and went into hiding after losing a gubernatorial election in April.
“He has pardoned us and we have also pardoned him too,” Tanginye said.
The meeting with the former militia leader comes a day after Kiir opened a three-day conference in Juba between Kiir’s ruling party, the SPLM, and opposition politicians including Lam Akol, Kiir’s only rival in presidential elections in April. In his speech, Kiir urged southern politicians to unite ahead of the secession referendum.
Kiir has invited other leaders of armed groups in Southern Sudan for talks, Ezekial Gatkuoth, a member of the SPLM leadership, said by phone today in Juba.
“The purpose of the meeting is to make sure that all Southern Sudanese are united on the referendum,” he said.
Preparations for the plebiscite are behind schedule. Initial voter registration, which according to law was to have been completed by the end of August, is now scheduled to take place next month.
Speaking at the UN in New York on September 24, Kiir warned that “any delays risk a return to instability and violence of a massive scale.”
Southern Sudan pumps most of Sudan’s crude, which at 490,000 barrels a day makes the nation the third-largest producer in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
Oil pumped in the south is exported through a pipeline running north to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Under the peace deal, the two sides split southern oil revenue. No agreement has been reached on revenue sharing or pipeline usage fees if Southern Sudan secedes.