Sudanese rebel commander says he defected to ensure national unity

December 12, 2002 (AFP)

A defecting rebel commander said here Thursday he returned to the Sudanese government to ensure national unity and reject what he charged was rebel leader John Garang's inclination to secede.

Peter Gadet, a former commander of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) who joined the rebels after serving in the army until 1991, told a press conference he made his decision after "a thorough search of mind."

He said he observed the government's "genuine eforts towards realising a comprehensive peace through several rounds of talks with the other side while providing such basic services as health and education in the south in general and in the Unity State in particular."

Gadet was referring to months of peace negotiations in Kenya between the Islamist government in Khartoum and the SPLA.

Under a groundbreaking framework agreement in July, the mainly animist and Christian south will enjoy six years of self-rule before holding a referendum on the issue of secession.

Gadet said securing the country's national unity and wealth, including the Sudanese oil wells and installations, "were among the factors which enlightened my mind to take this rational step."

He accused Garang of being "a secessionist, disinclined to peace and fighting for his own personal ends."

However, Sudanese President Omar el-Beshir, who held his first ever meeting with Garang in Uganda in July, described the rebel leader as a unionist.

On Tuesday, the independent newspaper Al-Sahafi Al-Dawli said Gadet had arrived in Khartoum after the government persuaded him during long, painstaking negotiations to defect.

Gadet is a member of the Nuer, the second biggest tribe after the Dinka. He commanded SPLA forces in Unity and led more than 20 military operations targetting oil-producing and oil-exporting facilities, the paper said.

This new alliance will "fully secure" the oil fields against any threat, the sources were quoted as predicting, adding that the defection constituted "a major blow to John Garang's movement."

The government said, meanwhile, that SPLA plans to issue banknotes and establish a central bank in Yei were "a provocative step aimed at preempting the current negotiations on wealth sharing."

It was "a clear violation" of the July breakthrough agreement, the Machakos (Kenya) Protocol, as well as other committments to Sudanese unity during the interim period.

It also denounced Garang's visit last week to Kauda in the central Nuba Mountains as "a preemptive move intended to forstall constructive engagement between the government and the citizens of" the region.

It denied claims that the Nuba Mountains were "part and parcel of the conflict in southern Sudan," statements that were attributed to Garang.

The Nuba Mountains has enjoyed a separate ceasefire for the past year.

Meanwhile, a Sudanese government's press release said visiting French foreign ministry official Jean Christophe Belliard conveyed to Khartoum his government's intention of playing a key role in the peace process.