Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Disarmament that went awry

The alleged brutality of SPLA troops in Jonglei State has forced lifelong tribal adversaries to unite against the Juba government, writes Salah Khalil

Al-Ahram Weekly

Once again, fighting renewed in Jonglei State in South Sudan, pitting tribal insurgents led by David Yau Yau against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

In July 2013, the confrontation became particularly bloody, with the locals claiming that the SPLA soldiers killed nearly 100 people from the Murle tribe, including women and children.

The SPLA is also said to have executed Murle men for refusing to hand over their weapons.

Acting on orders from Juba, the SPLA has been waging a campaign to disarm various tribes across the country.

More than 100,000 people may have been displaced during the recent fighting.

Jonglei State, situated near the borders of Ethiopia, has always been the site of cattle wars among the nomadic tribes, who are in the habit of preying on the herds of one another. A long-running vendetta gave rise to hostilities between the Murle and the Lou Nuer, but both have just joined forces against the government.

Reacting to reports by human rights organisations, the Juba authorities began in August investigating alleged human rights abuses by the SPLA.

For the past nine months, Yau Yau-led troops have been locked in battle with the SPLA in the eastern parts of the country. The fighting brought to a halt oil projects by Total and Exxon, the French and American oil giants.

On Friday 13 September, Human Rights Watch published a report in which it blames the SPLA for the death and displacement of civilians in the eastern provinces.

Despite the harsh conditions of the rainy season, reports indicate that many who escaped the fighting last July are still hiding in jungle areas near Pibor County.

Aid workers say that the fighting is blocking humanitarian assistance and medical supplies from reaching thousands of locals. Large numbers of women and children have been displaced or worse during the recent clashes.

In some cases, acts of rape, torture and looting were blamed on SPLA soldiers.

The current fighting was triggered by Operation Restore Peace, through which Juba hopes to disarm various tribes in the region. But there is evidence that this campaign was conducted with exceptional brutality.

So intense was the hostility that this campaign generated the fact that lifelong enemies in the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes finally came together to challenge the SPLA onslaught. In the ongoing battles, Yau Yau is leading fighters from his own Murle tribe as well as gunmen from the Lou Nuer White Army.

The US and Western countries have criticised South Sudan over human rights conditions. This prompted President Salva Kiir last August to place several SPLA commanders on trial on charges of human rights violations.

In 2012, more than 1,600 people died in Jonglei State alone.

UN reports indicate that the recent fighting has impeded humanitarian assistance to more than 100,000 people in South Sudan.

President Kiir, who has just reshuffled his cabinet and appointed a new vice president, said that SPLA army commanders found guilty in the current investigations would pay for their crimes.

Former SPLA commander General James Otong Riek is currently undergoing investigation for alleged atrocities committed by his troops in earlier bouts of fighting.

Lou Nuer expatriates have submitted a petition to the permanent members of the UN Security Council demanding investigation by the International Criminal Court into alleged SPLA crimes against the Lou Nuer tribe in South Sudan dating back to 2006.

In Juba, Murle chiefs accused the South Sudan government of taking sides with the Lou Nuer tribe. They claimed that only victims of the Lou Nuer are given treatment in government hospitals in Pibor County, while those of the Murle are turned away.

The Juba government vehemently denied the charges.

The SPLA heavy-handedness has fuelled resentment in the region, threatening to engulf South Sudan in further warfare that may spill over into neighbouring countries.

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