Bor MPs cautiously laud Riek apology about 1991 massacre, ask him to extend it to the grassroots

Hon. Malek Alier, MP for Anyidi, Kolnyang, Bor South (left) and Hon. Deng Dau, MP for Twic East, on Wednesday waded into Dr. Riek Machar's apology to the Dinka Bor community on Sunday for crimes committed in 1991 under Nasir Faction
(Juba NSV) – Two Dinka Bor MPs from the National Assembly on Wednesday waded into Dr. Riek Machar’s Sunday apology to members of the Bor community for the gruesome killing of thousands of its citizens by the Nasir Faction’ forces in 1991, then commanded by Dr. Riek Machar Teny.

In the same year, the community also saw its property looted and livelihood put into disrepair by the faction.

At a gathering held at the home of the late Dr. John Garang to commemorate the sixth anniversary of his death on Sunday, Dr. Riek Machar, South Sudan’s Vice President stunned those who attended, when he unexpectedly owned up to the heinous crimes of the Nasir Faction in 1991. The apology came nearly twenty years after the massacre.

On August 28, 1991, Riek Machar and his comrades declared a coup against the late leader of the SPLM/SPLA, Dr. John Garang, called ‘Nasir Declaration.’

On Sunday, Dr. Riek explained the aim of his movement, which was initially supported by many southerners from different tribes, was to restore democracy and human rights in the mainstream SPLM, whose late leader was allegedly autocratic. However, the Nasir Movement went on to commit human rights abuses, culminating in the ‘Bor Massacre.’

The Sunday occasion was organized by Garang’s widow, Madam Rebecca Nyandeng, and supported by the committee, which was charged with organizing Martyrs Day, The New Sudan Vision has learned.

Madam Nyandeng invited MPs, government officials, the Speaker of South Sudan parliament, religious leaders, the President, the Vice President, and members of the public. The event was announced at Emannuel Jieng church in Juba, and through SSTV.

President Kiir did not attend the prayers, but the Vice President, Dr. Riek was one of the invited dignitaries who turned up.

“The family [of the late Dr. John] took the opportunity to remember Dr. John in a bigger way because the vision and the legacy of what he fought for is now achieved,” Hon. Deng Dau Malek, MP for Twic East County, explained to The New Sudan Vision on Wednesday.

Hon. Deng, who also spoke at the event in his capacity as representative for Twic East, where the late Garang hailed from, said most of the speeches at the occasion, bordered on memory of South Sudan’s fallen heroes and heroines, in light of last month’s historic achievement of independence for South Sudan, and what awaited its future.

Apology for 1991 massacre

‘“Dr Riek, when he stood, and talked about the painful event of 1991,”’ narrated Hon. Deng, ‘“His statements were that whatever that happened in 1991 should not be associated to other people, namely people like Dr. Lam who was his deputy, and person like Gordon Kong, who was also member of the Political High Command during that time.”’

The lawmaker went on further:   ‘“He said I should take squarely the responsibility of the events of 1991. And he said the people that have suffered were people of the Greater Bor, and the entire Jonglei.

‘“He took that day to express his apology to the people who are affected by the events of 1991”’, he concluded.

When he was narrating the events of 1991, Dr. Riek broke down and wept, to the point where he nearly collapsed, several witnesses confirmed to The New Sudan Vision.

The Vice President was then joined by his wife, Dr. Anjelina Teny, who was also reportedly in tears. The dramatic scene provoked a moment of raw emotions, where some of the victims started wailing in memory of their loved ones who had died in the massacre or its aftermath, while others were bewildered by the apology, The New Sudan Vision understood from various accounts from witnesses.

In response to the apology, Caretaker Gov. of the Central Bank of South Sudan, Elijah Malok, as elder in the Bor community and immediate relative of the late Dr. John Garang, took the microphone. He was said to have expressed his bitter feelings about 1991, before concluding that he would personally forgive Riek, but that he would refer the case to the larger Bor community for deliberation on the next step.

Madam Nyandeng, on the other hand, spoke the last words. She blamed Riek for setting the South backward with his 1991 move, when SPLM/SPLA was on the verge of victory at the time. She reasoned the Republic of South Sudan would have been achieved a decade earlier were it not because of the defection, The New Sudan Vision was told.

On her own behalf and that of her children, the Former First Lady said she forgave Riek Machar for his crimes.

On Monday, the Dinka Bor community called an emergency meeting, also held at late Dr. Garang’s home, and attended by representatives of the Bor community, intellectuals, citizens, and politicians to agree on how to handle the issue.

Although those who attended said no consensus emerged from the meeting, the predominant ideas can be broken up to about three, according to Hon. Malek Alier, MP for Const. 15, Anyidi, Kolnyang, Bor South:  

  • (1) those who are asking for Dr. Riek to apologize to the grassroots in Bor and other S. Sudanese communities
  • (2) those who are willing to forgive Dr. Riek but without any political strings attached
  • (3) and those who are saying Dr. Riek’s apology will fall short if it comes from him alone and not from fellow perpetrators.

In the meeting, a committee made up of Bor representatives to follow up on how genuine was Dr. Riek’s confession, was formed. Its members are waiting to meet with the Vice President to sought whether he stood by his apology, and to agree on how to best proceed with the issue.

‘Truth and Reconciliation’

For Hon. Deng, Dr. Riek’s apology on Sunday was a welcome development.  “As members of parliament, we say this is a good gesture for general reconciliation, and this is what we call Truth and Reconciliation. People must talk about the bitter things that had happened,” he told The New Sudan Vision, in an interview.

On the timing of Dr. Riek’s apology, he said it “could be political” but also “reality” because reconciliation will be nonexistent if the people of Bor do not express their feelings about the horrific memory of the massacre.

He carried on: “People of Bor have been uprooted by 1991. And we are saying we cannot do it alone here in Juba because Greater Bor people, who are affected, are at the grassroots. It may not be understood by people who are at home in the villages.

“We encourage Dr. Riek to extend this gesture to the people who are really affected, and we’re talking about people who are in the rural areas,” he added.

Ready to forgive…

Hon. Malek held similar sentiments with his counterpart. “Generally, people are ready to forgive but they think that, this thing should be said in another bigger gathering, where people who have been affected or victimized, who have lost many [relatives], should be heard first,” he told The New Sudan Vision on Wednesday.

“It should not be done at the political level. It has to be extended to the grassroots, so that those who are bitter, those who have lost their dear people, they have to air out themselves, and if that forgiveness comes out from them, then all are going to be healed,” he said.

Dr. Riek’s belated apology has triggered all kinds of speculations about his intentions. Others wondered whether his apology was meant to solicit Dinka Bor support in his leadership ambitions.

“This apology should not be misunderstood, as if we have something we’re cooking,” said Hon. Deng, when The New Sudan Vision asked him about the political implications of any resultant forgiveness from the community.

“It’s from him, and he knows why he has said this at this time,” he said.

“As a people of Bor, we’re firm behind the leadership of the SPLM, led by comrade Salva Kiir Mayardit. And so whatever reconciliation that is done, is done within the context of the existing structures,” he concluded.

What’s more, Hon. Malek stressed the importance of having a uniform apology from the perpetrators.

“What we want to know, is that, is this idea, the idea of Riek Machar alone, or the idea shared by those with whom he was doing this together. Riek alone, even if he’s forgiven and others are still maintaining that bitterness, it will not help. So I want this thing to be extended and we hear from others who were with Riek Machar, whether they are ready, what Riek has said, is what they have, then it would be good for us,” he told The New Sudan Vision.

“We’re convinced that [the apology] is a good initiative, it’s really a national initiative, because we want Southerners to forget all the bitterness. We want Southerners to forget the past. We want to begin anew so that we build our

nation,” he added.

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