SPLA disarmament of armed civilians in Jonglei State


Source: Pactsudan
09 May 2006
posted to web 25 May 2006


SPLA disarmament of armed civilians in Jonglei State

The armed youth from the bordering sections of communities in Ayod (Gawaar Nuer) Uror and Nyirol (Lou Nuer) and Duk (Dinka) counties meet every year in the dry season grazing areas where they take their cattle. This seasonal migration has become increasingly violent over the course of the war, exacerbated by the widespread proliferation of firearms in their hands, and despite merger of many of the armed factions – conflict among the youth continued. The Lou Nuer are the only community without sufficient dry season grazing area and who must travel through Duk and Gawaar lands each year). While seasonal migrations during the 1970s were still very amicable, utually beneficial and governed by traditional systems of peaceful negotiation. as the communities have acquired arms the yearly movement has created ever more stress and discomfort for the three communities. It now is estimated, for example, by government and civil society groups that around 6000-9000 armed Lou Nuer youth (particularly from sub-certain sections of the Gon section) move each year.

Disarmament begins: Disarmament in Upper Nile began in November 2005 – led by SPLA Maj Gen George Athor in Kharflus county. From November 30th, – December 9th, 2005 a meeting of Armed youth Leaders from Duk, Gawaar ad Lou was organized and facilitated by the Nuer Peace council (a civil society organization) building on a series of peace meetings in recent years between the Lou, Gawaar and Duk. The state level government of Jonglei officially requested participation in this meeting in order to explain the new strategies of the government for implementation of the CPA and restoration of the rule of law including issues of disarmament. (including the tactics of moving from lesser armed communities towards the best armed – the Lou and the Murle).  Despite heated debate that saw the Duk and Gawaar express concern at Lou seasonal movement with the Duk in particular refusing Lou access to grazing lands, the government stressed that all should access the common land and that anyone not volunteering to be disarmed would be disarmed by force in the near future. Finally specific resolutions were reached.

From December 2005 to February 2006, disarmament expanded from Khorflus in two directions 1) south towards Bor  and 2) east towards the Ethiopian Border along the Sobat river . By the third week of January 2005 the troops had reached Pajut in Duk county and as far as the Ethiopian border (in Gajaak Nuer) areas. The troops in Pajut were re-organising themselves to proceed to the two Lou counties of Uror and Nyirol. Their movement was proceeded by the commissioner of Uror who traveled to Yuai to assess the situation and gae a green light for the army to proceed. During the period civil society groups had got organized to undertake awareness raising in the Gajaak and Lou areas fearing further violence after hearing reports that sections of each community were preparing to resist disarmament. In Lou areas the civil society initiative involved liaising with senior army officers and attempting (in addition to awareness raising in the three counties) to bring Army and armed community leaders together for negotiations and consensus building to ensure that the feared confrontations could be avoided.

Disarmament forces reach Lou areas: While disarmament occurred without major incident in Gajaak areas, the situation in Lou lands rapidly went out of hand. From Pajut 1300 SPLA forces moved towards Yuai on 27th January following a green light from authorities in Lou areas. The forces encountered unexpected resistance by armed civilians and remnants of armed groups of Simon Gatwech at Yuai. During these clashes the Nuer Prophet Wutnyang, who had participated in the arming of the white army and had since committed himself to their disarmament (Fangak 2004) was killed by the armed Lou youth. SPLA forces were scattered and hundreds of soldiers were said to have died, the majority from thirst and starvation. In response to these clashes, the government of South Sudan sent a delegation to Yuai accompanied by UN police (led by Simon Gatwech) to contain the situation, and key actors were called to Juba for investigation. Further rapid responses were proposed by various Lou leaders and civil society groups and a series of visits made to Yuai in early February.  

The Yuai meeting: A further dialogue with the armed youth was proposed and a larger meeting with Lou leaders was convened in Yuai from 27 February to March 7 2006.  Involving Lou leaders from Khartoum, Malakal, Bor, Juba and the Lou counties with the objective of thrashing out the confusion which had led to so many dead and a review of the disarmament process aiming to engage the armed youth themselves. The meeting was attended by senior officials including VP Riak Machar, GoSS Minister for Internal affairs Daniel Awet Akot, GoSS Minister for youth and sports John Luk Jock, and Jonglei Governor Philip Thon Leek, state minister of information Timothy Taban Juc, MP Gabriel Yual Doul. The Armed Lou youth who were preparing to take their cattle west to grazing lands in Duk and Gawaar areas, had been asked to wait until the arrival of the high delegations, but the majority had moved by the time the meeting began due to pressing need to get water and pasture for their cattle, and despite all the negotiations their movement was not peaceful. The Yuai meeting proceeded with key chiefs and community leaders and the disarmament agenda was generally endorsed but it was recognized by all that the deep involvement of the armed youth was crucial. The meeting was thus moved to Pokap, in Duk county – the nearest town to the largest grazing areas with the majority of Lou cattle camps.  

The Poktap meeting: All the key leaders in Yuai (government traditional authorities and civil society) moved to Poktap on 8th March. Chiefs were sent to the grazing areas to call the armed youth (white army). On 10th and 11th March the armed youth leaders met with the delegation from Yuai. The government, under Riek Machar, officially announced that he had dissolved the white army (that he had formed in 1991/2 as part of the split from the SPLA). The youth were informed that they will be forcefully disarmed if they did not voluntarily comply with the region wide disarmament initiative. Key leaders from the delegation and white army made presentations. Some youth volunteered to hand in their weapons but the majority stated their unwillingness. At the end of the two days, teams made up of youth leaders, chiefs and local authorities were formed to travel to the cattle camps (each according to their own sub-section) in order to convince the adamant groups to lay down their weapons, and ensure peaceful arms collection from those groups that had agreed through their chiefs. These teams were given 7 days to complete their work, and by the 18th March they reported back in Poktap that the majority continued to refuse. Col. James Ruot also reported that the SPLA had sent Lou soldiers from the front line to each of their sub-sections (clans) among the Lou armed youth appealing for peaceful disarmament but that the youth repeatedly rejected their calls.    

At the end of March the SPLA engaged with the cattle camps in the Dinka Holl grazing area and fighting continued for 3 days during which time it was reported that from the Lou youth 43 were dead and 69 wounded, and from the SPLA 8 dead and 35 wounded. A rapid response team was again sent by the state government of Jonglei and was later joined by civil society leaders to assist wounded and negotiate between the Lou Nuer armed youth and the SPLA, and spoke to soldiers and white army at the front line, but despite a temporary ceasefire between 27th and 30th March while the team visited the cattle camps, the teams could not reach an agreement with the Lou youth and the SPLA and left Poktap for further discussions in Juba with senior government. Between 1st and 3rd of May, the SPLA engaged with the armed youth. It is estimated that over 280 members of the armed youth were killed during this period. Many of the white army broke through the SPLA lines to travel back to their home areas, thought by many observers to be a desperate decision for them to make, as there is no surface rain water at this time of the year. Huge herds of cattle were left scattered around Duk county and in the grazing areas.

Attempts to organize a further meeting of Lou leaders to travel to Yuai to plead with communities took place in Juba and in Malakal, Bor and Nairobi from Thursday 3rd to Saturday 6th May. These attempts to start further dialogue started with plans to bring three teams of high level Lou leaders to Yuai including a team from Malakal led by Yual Bath, a team from Bor led by Gabriel Gai Riam, and the team from juba led by Rev Both Reath. Due to a deterioration of security reported in the Yuai area due to the movement of the dispersed Lou Nuer youth, the team felt insecure to travel to Yuai itself, and opted for neighboring Pieri. A meetings of 37 key Lou leaders in Juba took place on the 6th may, but the Juba meeting did not manage to get a consensus on what would be an effective approach to improving the situation (given that the earlier consensus had not helped and that subsequent attempts to negotiate peaceful disarmament had not succeeded). The following day both Yuai and Pieri were declared a no go zone for humanitarian agencies. The proposed mission to Yuai also suffered from growing mistrust among Lou leaders due to differing opinions on the disarmament process itself, and increasing allegations and rumors of possible military support being channeled to the armed youth. At the time of writing it is expected that SPLA troops will proceed to Yuai.  There have also been reports that some youth in Pajut (on route to Yuai) have volunteered the weapons but these remain unconfirmed.

Concluding analysis: According to the SPLA, the disarmament process is directly in line with implementing the CPA which states that as of January 2006 no other armed groups shall be allowed beyond SPLA and SAF. The key commander in disarmament Bol Kong is Lou Nuer (commanding a mixed SPLA force). He perceives that he has no choice and the disarmament must continue (as it has been negotiated numerous times) as agreed with authorities and many community leaders both for the purpose of security and to ensure that the state government of Jonglei (and indeed GoSS) is able to control security in Greater Upper Nile and thus establish a functioning government.. Many chiefs have recognized repeatedly the destabilizing effects of guns on their communities, and also their effect on eroding traditional authority and obstructing modern governance and rule of law. Senior Lou chiefs have agreed on disarmament (including Gatluak Thoah, the most senior chief in Lou areas) as have key ex-armed group leaders such as Simon Gatwech Duol (ie. in Yuai and Poktap)

The Lou youth are particularly isolated from information on the CPA, used to carrying guns for everyday security and express a fear of their neighbors the Murle (demanding police posts be established). Disarmament processes have been undertaken in the counties neighboring the Lou Nuer (Apart from the Murle areas) and communities have expressed deep concern that they are vulnerable as long as other communities remain armed (as evidenced by ongoing raids reported by Lou in other areas in the last month (Ulang, Pagil, etc).

Particular areas of concern include:
  • Further politicization of this issue and division among Lou leaders
  • Hunger among the Lou since they have lost many cattle and will need food,
  • Fuelling of further grievances among the Lou due to hunger, lack of water for the animals that make it to Lou areas (estimated to be half of the total 30,000) and the potential for Lou herds scattered in Duk and Gawaar areas to be stolen.
  • Potential for arms to be sourced through security organs of SAF by frustrated Lou youth

Ulang and Luakpiny: Lou-Jikany-(Gajok) conflict. Following the theft of some Jikany cattle by Lou, and a response by local police that the Lou felt was excessive. A group of Lou attacked the town of Ulang on the 9th April and killed about 14 people including the executive director of Ulang County and seized hundreds of cattle. This followed by retaliatory attacks by Jikany to recover their raided cattle from Lou. Rumours continue that the Lou may be regrouping in Chuil and Dinin preparing to attack Jikany.

Akobo: (Internal Lou-Lou conflict). Tensions in Akobo increased among local sections of Lou and a number of people were killed in town towards the end of April. However progress in Lou Murle relations was reported (in particular through chief Nyagtho making repeated peace visits and ultimately leading a group of 400 Murle to Akobo to access services on Friday May 06..

Pochalla events: Towards the last week of April a groups reported to be Murle attacked Anyuak villages killing 15 people and wounding 14 others. It is reported by local authorities that these Murle raiders originated from the armed groups of Ismail Konyi stationed inside Pibor town.  
Pibor (Murle) Ismael Kony traveled from Pibor to Juba and said he would officially declare his support for the SPLA on the 7th of May, but as the time of writing this remains to be confirmed.

Gambella (Cross border in Ethiopia) Gambella experienced a series of large confrontations between populations and what is reported to be an armed group operating from Sudan moving between the Gilo and Baro rivers including: at Palbol on 14 April 2006 18 Nuer killed and then a few days later 28 Nuer were killed and over 40 injured. In a subsequent attack on Ngor, 20 Nuer died and 7 from the armed group from Sudan. Other voices also suspect that the armed group might be Lou nuer, or one of the armed groups fighting the GoE at this border.

Large scale cattle raids with human casualties reportedly by led by a group from Sudan have included

1) Abobi Sub-village of Pukedi Abobo on 8th April – up to 500 Cattle looted
2) Puldeng on 12 April/06 up to 500 cattle raided
3) Palboul village on 15 of April/06: 18 were killed, 7 wounded (inc 3 were children) - hundreds of cattle looted. Telut on 19 of April/ 06 - engaging the defense force and police force in Itang, Kuargung and Gambella. 25 civilians were killed.

It is locally reported that the SPLA disarmament crossed into Gambella Region, followed by forceful recruitment of the Ethiopian Nuers to be part of SPLA military. In response the Matar Woreda Administration (some 167km away from Gambella town) opened a store of armaments in Matar and distributed arms to civilians. The Ethiopian Nuer clashed with the SPLA on 18/04/06 in Matar where 3 people died.

Incidents originating in Gambella have also included:

1) Gog Woreda/Tedo village on 10 of  April/06 where the national defense forcecollected 30 guns and killed two civilians on return to Pinyudo
2) Anyella in Jor 2500 19 of April/06 cattle were taken
3) Pukedi 20 of April/06 Abobo 90 cattle raided
4) Egole sub-village of Itangkir on 21 of April/06 Anywaa man shot dead
5) Abobo town on 27 of April/06 bandits attacked the defense force commander and one bandit killed. 

Related Articles:

Situation horrible for Akobo people
Intimidation is Dreadful Politics
The Nuer fear of neighbors is not a big excuse not to disarm.
Upper Nile: No Genocide in South Sudan
Nuer: "A good way to present grievance"





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