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South Sudan claims death of rebel leader

By Sarah Jones, CNN
updated 9:32 PM EST, Tue December 20, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • South Sudan's vice president announced the death of Lt. Gen. George Athor
  • The claim has not been verified by an independent body.
  • Athor rebelled after losing a gubernatorial election in the spring of 2010

(CNN) -- The newly independent Republic of South Sudan has announced the death of a prominent renegade rebel leader.

Lt. Gen. George Athor and one of his soldiers were killed in a clash with the country's military, Vice President Riek Machar told reporters Tuesday. He said they had infiltrated South Sudan on their way out of Rwanda via the eastern border area of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

The claim has not been verified by an independent body.

A dissident commander of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, or SPLA, Athor rebelled after losing a gubernatorial election in the spring of 2010. He called for numerous orchestrated clashes after the announcement of his defeat.

"Under the banner of his South Sudan Democratic Movement (SSDM) and its military wing, the South Sudan Army, Gen. Athor was considered the most powerful post-election insurrectionist" the Geneva-based independent research project said in its 2011 report on what was then southern Sudan.

The Small Arms Survey says that although both the government of South Sudan and the SPLA have alleged that Athor received support from the Sudan government in Khartoum, there is no independent evidence to support these claims.

The death of Athor was not part of a government plan, because the government had declared general amnesty to all rebel groups in South Sudan, the vice president told reporters. The government is appealing to all of Athor's followers to heed the amnesty, which was declared on July 9 when the country celebrated its independence from Sudan.

John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, said the reported death of Athor "highlights the urgency with which the South Sudan government, with international support, must address inter-communal divisions within the South. Another Athor will emerge tomorrow unless real progress is made in providing political and economic opportunities that feel marginalized in the process of independence."

The Enough Project works to expose genocide and crimes against humanity.

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