A Rift Between Garang and Kerubino Precedes Kerubino=s Re-redefection to the Government
In mid November 1998, there was a short clash in Nairobi between bodyguards of Garang and Kerubino, leaving one of Garang=s bodyguards dead. The SPLA claimed that Kerubino was about to defect to Khartoum. In hindsight, this appears to have been the case.
According to press reports, government officials admitted that Kerubino was in Unity (Wihda) state with his relative Major General Paulino Matiep, the local pro-government warlord, in early January 1999,21 reportedly seeking negotiations to rejoin the government side and requested a military escort from Upper Nile to Bahr El Ghazal to link up with his militia.22
The Secretary for South Sudanese Affairs in the National Congress (formerly NIF), Augustino Aremo, told the press that the concerned Sudan government agencies were considering three options: 1) whether to use Kerubino to liberate SPLA areas of Bahr El Ghazal; 2) whether to keep him as a political leader to encourage SPLA defections; or 3) whether to strip him of his previous positions, pardon him (on account of the attack on Wau and his defection to the SPLA), and let him live as an ordinary citizen.23 He also was quoted as saying Kerubino could be appointed Bahr El Ghazal commander if he recaptured Tonj.24 Ten days later, however, the secretary-general=s special envoy for humanitarian affairs for the Sudan, Ambassador Tom Eric Vraalsen, having visited Khartoum, said that the government was concerned about the activities of Kerobino (reported to have defected back to the government with only sixty men).25
It was apparent trouble was brewing in November 1998 between Garang and Kerubino when Kerubino complained, at a Nairobi news conference characterized as Arambling@ by one correspondent, that SPLA agents had searched his house in Nairobi and repossessed his official car.26 He denied allegations that the November 10 search of (or raid on) his house were occasioned by the suspected presence there of a communications radio he used to talk with Khartoum.27 He also denied he was thinking of returning to the government=s side.28 Garang rather undiplomatically commented, AMany south Sudanese are traumatized by the war including their leaders who sometimes do not know what they are doing.@29
Kerubino was trying to return to southern Sudan in November: he complained that the SPLA office in Nairobi had refused to book him on a flight to Bahr El Ghazal, where he wanted to go and rejoin his forces.30 One account says that Kerubino was trying to charter a plane to take him and his family back to his base in Bahr El Ghazal.31
The Kenyan police later said that they prevented him from catching a plane to the government-held town of Bentiu.32 Kerubino, his deputy Dr. Amon Wantok, and his three top aids indeed were detained by Kenyan police at the Nairobi airport on Saturday November 14 at 6:00 a.m. when they were to board a chartered plane for southern Sudan. After being held at the Kenyan Airport Police Unit, the five men were taken to the Muthangari Police Station in Nairobi at 11:00 a.m. that day. That police station is about 200 meters from the residence of John Garang. Kerubino claimed the five were arrested on orders from John Garang, who sent an emissary to supervise the arrests,33 a claim Garang denied.
According to Kerubino, the police humiliated his party, ordering them to remove their shoes and locking them in the cells. He claimed that Garang=s armed militia was summoned by the police to the police station, arriving in four vehicles. Kerubino was turned over to this militia, which drove with him to his residence to seize his vehicles and communications equipment, then drove him back to the police station. The police, who said that Kerubino had been suspected of maintaining contacts with Khartoum, later searched for illegal weapons, and found an illegal radio, which they confiscated.34
In the evening, Kerobino claimed, he and the other four Ahostages@ were taken to a yard at the back of the station, and Aunleased@ (Kerubino=s term) by the Kenyan police to the Garang militia which was waiting. A fight ensued.35
It was clear that there was fighting between Garang and Kerubino=s armed militias in Nairobi in the vicinity of Garang=s residence. According to SPLA spokesman Deng Alor Kuol, a Kerubino Ahit squad@ raided Garang=s house but the attack was foiled by Athe alertness of the Kenyan police.@ He accused Kerubino of trying to assassinate SPLA leader John Garang and the Sudanese government of having a hand in this attack. The SPLA spokesman said that Kerubino had been demanding that he be appointed Garang=s deputy while at the same time trying to persuade other SPLA leaders to Astage a coup@ against Garang. AHe wanted to take over the SPLA leadership so that he can go back to Khartoum and negotiate a better deal for himself,@ the SPLA spokesman alleged.36 The SPLA=s statement said, AThe National Islamic Front (NIF) government through its embassy in Nairobi has a long hand in this game since the arrival of Kerubino in Nairobi.@ It claimed Kerubino was being used by Khartoum to stage attacks in Nairobi similar to the attempted assassination of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia in 1995.37
Kerubino disputed the account of the thirty-minute exchange of fire at or near Garang=s residence, claiming that it was Garang who wanted to kill him, and that the man killed was one of his supporters. In January 1999, however, the Kenyan police charged three men who allegedly tried to assassinate John Garang with the murder of James Monywir Dogi Bol, an SPLA member. The accused were Justine Obute, Kul Garong, and Amat Malual.38
Later on the night of the attack on Garang=s residence, Kerubino=s supporters went to the offices of the SPLA relief wing, the SRRA, and attempted to loot it, according to the SPLA, but a night watchman with the help of a AKenyan vigilante group@ foiled the move.39 The Kenyan police confirmed that there had been an attack on the SPLA office.
Following the shoot-out at Garang=s residence, Kerubino and his men took refuge at the Zambian High Commission.40 Kerubino said that he took refuge there because the Kenyan police were going to hand him over to Garang=s men who would have taken him to the border and killed him. He also accused Garang=s forces of killing his uncle=s sixteen-year-old son and beating other young relatives after abducting them a few days previously. He also denied he was trying to defect to the government.41
Kerubino and his men were persuaded to leave the Zambian High Commission by Kenyan officials on Monday, November 16. The whereabouts of Garang was uncertain at that time, and he was said to have gone underground. The two leaders were reportedly staying in Kenya subject to further instructions from the Kenya government.42 The status of the SPLA and Kerubino supporters was brought into question because, although they were considered refugees, they were heavily armed; one of the two leaders was alleged to have imported more than one hundred soldiers from Sudan for his security detail in Nairobi, armed with submachine guns and AK-47 assault rifles, although they were alleged to have no firearms certificates from the Kenyan government.
Another element in the plot is that the Kenyan police were alleged to be divided, with police from Muthangari supporting Garang while those from Kabete were in defense of Kerubino. The Kenyan police declined to comment on this.43
Immediately southern ex-rebels in Khartoum and top government officials urged Kerubino to return to Khartoum for his safety. Lawrence Lual Lual, a signatory of the Peace Agreement, claimed Kerubino would be pardoned by President Bashir, and praised Kerubino as a brave man for attempting to remove Garang, adding, A>We need more anti-Garang groups to try their best to get rid of him.=@44 He said that Kerubino would be reinstated in the army and claimed that the Aincident of Wau@ was not serious and would be forgiven. One government newspaper in Khartoum, however, said that Kerubino must account for the loss of lives in Wau, Aweil, and Gogrial caused by his attacks on them in late January 1998.45
Sudanese church leaders in Nairobi met separately with Garang and Kerubino in an effort to encourage peace and reconciliation. They said that they feared that the quarrel in Nairobi, if extended to the ground, could lead to Akilling ourselves again massively like what happened in 1991@ a reference to the fighting that followed the Riek Machar split from the SPLA.46 These reconciliation efforts failed when Kerubino returned to government-held southern Sudan to make a deal with the government.
Until the last moment, Kerubino continued to deny that he would return to Khartoum. A>This is ridiculous. Going back to Khartoum would not be good for our people. Our people are fighting for self-determination,=@ he said in November 1998.47
Kerubino=s posture of repentance toward the rural Dinka of Bahr El GhazalCthat he apologized for joining the AArabs@ and attacking his peopleClasted less than one year.
21 Kerubino is a Dinka from Bahr El Ghazal and Paulino is a Bul Nuer; it is said that Paulino is married to Kerubino=s daughter.
22 Matthew Bigg, ASudan warlord defects back to government,@ Reuters, Nairobi, January 5, 1999. Another report claimed that Kerubino flew to Khartoum in late December 1998 with ten of his sons, was received by Riek Machar, and asked to rejoin the SSDF. ASudan: the Fall and Rise of a Warlord,@ IPS, Khartoum, January 5, 1999. It is highly unlikely Kerubino would have gone to Khartoum before clarifying his relationship with the government. When it comes to Kerubino, however, nothing is entirely impossible.
23 "Kerubino reportedly seeking to rejoin Sudan=s government side,@ AFP, Khartoum, January 4, 1998.
24 "Sudan: the Fall and Rise of a Warlord,@ IPS, Khartoum, January 5, 1999.
25 "Sudan: Ceasefire for three months,@ U.N. OCHA Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), Update No. 588 for Central and Eastern Africa, January 15, 1999.
26 Matthew Bigg, ASudan rebel leader complains of harassment by SPLA,@ Reuters, Nairobi, November 13, 1998.
27 "Sudanese Rebels Wrangle in Nairobi,@ AANA, Nairobi, November 30, 1998.
28 Judith Achieng and Nhial Bol, ASudanese Rebel Leaders Hunt Down Each Other in Kenya,@ IPS, Nairobi/Khartoum, November 19, 1998.
29 Matthew Bigg, ASudan rebel leader complains of harassment by SPLA,@ Reuters, Nairobi, November 13, 1998.
30 "Sudanese rebel group denies harassing its commander,@ AFP, Nairobi, November 16, 1998.
31 Achieng and Bol, ASudanese Rebel Leaders Hunt Down Each Other.@
32 "Sudanese Rebels Wrangle in Nairobi,@ AANA, Nairobi, November 30, 1998.
33 Steven Muiruri, "New Twist in Gen. Garang Episode,@ Africa News Service, Nation, Nairobi, November 18, 1998.
34 "Sudanese Rebels Wrangle in Nairobi,@ AANA, Nairobi, November 30, 1998.
35 Muiruri, "New Twist in Gen. Garang Episode.@
36 John Nyaga, ASudanese rebels accuse sometime ally of assassination bid,@ AFP, Nairobi, November 18, 1998.
37 Achieng and Bol, ASudanese Rebel Leaders Hunt Down Each Other.@
38 Sudanese Catholic Information Office, Sudan Monthly Report (Nairobi), January 15, 1999, referring to January 7, 1999.
39 Owino Opondo, AGun-Fight in Nairobi Exposes Rift in SPLA,@ Africa News Service, East African (Nairobi), November 25, 1998.
40 Opondo, AGun-fight in Nairobi Exposes Rift in SPLA.@
41 "Kerubino says he will not rejoin Sudan government side,@ AFP, Nairobi, November 19, 1998.
42 Opondo, AGun-fight in Nairobi Exposes Rift in SPLA.@
43 Muiruri, "New Twist in Gen. Garang Episode.@
44 Achieng and Bol, ASudanese Rebel Leaders Hunt Down Each Other.@
46 "Sudanese Church Leaders Meet SPLA Rival Groups,@ AANA, Nairobi, December 7, 1998.
47 "Kerubino says he will not rejoin Sudan government side,@ AFP, Nairobi, November 19, 1998.