South Sudan: Disarmament Jitters in Jonglei State
28 February 2012
Juba/Pibor - South Sudan's plan to start collecting some 20,000 weapons from
civilians in Jonglei state in March, by force if necessary, is likely to
worsen the volatile security situation there and complicate efforts to
deliver essential humanitarian aid, the UN and several analysts have warned.
"Disarmament efforts could contribute to increasing tensions in an already
tense environment," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs said in a 23 February bulletin.
"Jonglei's rival communities are wary of relinquishing their weapons,
regardless of government promises to carry out disarmament simultaneously in
each area," it added.
The UN estimates that 140,000 people in Jonglei have been affected,
thousands of homes burnt and basic infrastructure destroyed during recent
violence between different communities.
Fears of a deterioration have been stoked by plans by one side - the Lou
Nuer-led "White Army" - to mount a major offensive backed by Ethiopian
kinsmen in early March. Their aim is to permanently "quarantine" the Murle
community and protect their own because, they said, the state had failed to
While these communities have a long history of violent, retaliatory cattle
rustling, conflict in Jonglei has in recent years also been fuelled by the
absence of development and state authority, and perceptions - especially by
the Murle - of marginalization from the political sphere.
The Enough Project called on South Sudan to delay the disarmament operation
until a moribund peace process was reinvigorated.
"A disarmament campaign initiated in the short term will only serve to
frustrate the ability of international humanitarian organizations to get aid
to where it is needed and further destabilize the state, which will, in
turn, inhibit any progress towards reconciliation," said Jennifer Christian,
Enough Project Sudan policy analyst.
A joint statement by three organizations - the Danish Demining Group (DDG),
the Small Arms Survey (SAS) and PACT - urged the government to draw lessons
from previous disarmament operations and avoid the human rights abuses they
"Disarmament in Jonglei has been characterized by violence against
civilians, including summary execution, torture, rape, and armed theft and
has been accompanied by the displacement of civilians," the groups said of
campaigns conducted since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Accord between North
Sudan and the then-rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
The SPLA is now the official army in the six-month-old state of South Sudan.
Some 10,000 men drawn from it and the police have been deployed to Jonglei
for the new operation.
The government says the process will at first be voluntary, conducted among
rival communities simultaneously and backed by a major sensitization
campaign, renewed peace efforts and the creation of a buffer zone.
But the fighting words of President Salva Kiir at a recent public rally in
Bor, Jonglei's capital, have raised fears that previous abuses may be
"Even if you are the son of God, we shall fight you," Kiir warned those who
might refuse to hand over their weapons.
"If you don't listen, you will see with your eyes, but it will be too late
to escape [the full force of the SPLA] again," he said.
Jonglei's Minister for Law Enforcement and Security, Gabriel Duop Both, told
IRIN in early February: "I think it is better for the government to kill
some few people, if it is 100, than [for] the locals to kill 3,000 at a
time" - a reference to the highest estimate of civilian deaths sustained
during the White Army's 8,000 man assault on Murle areas in January.
"We cannot allow a state of anarchy and that every single local person
protects itself from another... this is the army's responsibility," he said.
"I cannot agree with some people who are asking for the calling-off of
disarmament," he said, adding that the hundreds of Nuer killed during a 2006
disarmament operation died after the SPLA came under fire.
Military spokesman Philip Aguer said peace talks had "been given enough time
since the first clashes in 2011. Now people have to pursue this
Aguer estimated the number of targeted weapons at 20,000.
With the operation scheduled to start in early February, before rains start
in April or May, the government has yet to detail what steps it will take to
deliver a promised programme of justice and reconciliation, or how the SPLA
will protect civilians. The buffer zone is not yet fully up and running.
There is particular concern over the perceived haste of the disarmament
operation, and the apparent sidelining of other key actions needed to
deliver security to Jonglei.
"The sensible approach is to reduce the number of weapons but as part of a
monitored and sustained peace process with real backing, especially from the
government. Without that it's a potential humanitarian disaster," said SAS
project manager for Sudan, Claire McEvoy.
In such operations, "the groups that are disarmed are left vulnerable to
attacks, and that actually leads to an increase in violence and in weapons,
of which there is no short supply in South Sudan", McEvoy said.
With countless armed groups active and distributing weapons not only in
Jonglei but in many areas of South Sudan, where internal conflict in recent
decades was just as devastating as the north-south civil war, disarmament
"has to be a regional policy, and planned", said South Sudan's deputy
information minister, Atem Yaak Atem, a native of Jonglei.
Just and balanced
Atem said that in previous campaigns, men "dressed as SPLA used it as an
opportunity to take guns", while those who appeared to cooperate often
handed over old weapons and kept their newer, more serviceable arms.
According to Lauren Hutton, DDG's violence reduction coordinator, "In 2006,
the Lou Nuer re-armed with the guns that were taken off them, because
someone gave them access."
With this new operation, "you're going to have a large number of security
forces, you're going to have large displacement, and a humanitarian response
will be needed", she added, stressing the need for a balanced response.
The Council of Sudanese Churches, which has played a central role in
negotiation attempts, said any disarmament operation had to be just and
"During the civil war, the fighters from the SPLA sold their weapons in
exchange for cows and other animals; those who hand in their weapons must be
given something to live on," said Bishop Paride Taban.
The minority Murle group, already mistrustful of a Dinka-dominated
government they say does not represent their interests and favours the
second-largest Nuer group, think they will be unfairly targeted in the
This perception was reinforced by reports that, during the Lou Nuer attack
on Pibor in December, 15 Lou Nuer soldiers defected from the SPLA to join
Meluth Kur Jok, an elder who has sought sanctuary in Jonglei's Akobo town
since five close relatives were killed and 80 children abducted in an attack
on his home village of Woulang a few weeks ago, told IRIN of his fears of
"We are still expecting them, they are still around us and now we don't
sleep in the houses, we are sleeping in the bush as Murle are still in the
area. That means the war is still there, no change."
Violence in Jonglei State - From Restitution to Revenge
> Jonglei State -
Civilian Disarmament to Commence in One Week
> South Sudan Calls
for Discipline During Jonglei Disarmament
> Juba Signs Deal
With Rebel Group of the Late George Athor
> Kiir Vowes to
Fight Cattle Raiders Who Refuse to Disarm
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Received on Tue Feb 28 2012 - 16:35:54 EST