South Sudan - Tribal Warfare 1991

The Pibor Cluster, with its garrison towns of Pibor and Bor, is an area of significant intra-Nuer conflict. The 1991 Bor Massacre also took place in this area and led to the flight of 700,000 Bor Dinka to Equatoria. The intra-South conflict has its origins in the 1991 Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) internal split. Nuer incursions into Dinka territory in the Jonglei region in late 1991 sparked a fierce conflict between the two groups. Soon after Riek Machar, a Nuer, and two other commanders announced a coup against SPLM-SPLA chairman John Garang, a Dinka, Garang dispatched a small contingent of soldiers commanded by William Nyoun Bany to Ayod in Eastern Upper Nile. Nyoun’s soldiers were quickly forced to retreat toward Kongor by troops loyal to the splinter faction (SPLM/A-Nasir) and Nuer militia counter- attacked in two waves. The first counter-attack, in September 1991, went only as far as Kongor; the second offensive, in November 1991, advanced deep into Dinka territory, south of Bor.

Thus ensued in the 1990’s a bitter conflict between the Dinka and Nuer with devastating consequences for the stability of the South in general and to the social integrity of both Dinka and Nuer communities. John Prendergast has provided an excellent analysis of how this intra-South conflict affected the internal relations among Southerners, but also, underlying the whole conflict, how the GOS used the Dinka-Nuer split to fuel further conflict in the South. According to Prendergast, the troops of the SPLM/A-Nasir (Nuer) faction were joined by soldiers from Anyanya II. A Nuer militia that fought the SPLM/A from 1983 to 1987 and then splintered, some of its soldiers joining the SPLM/A and others becoming a government-supported paramilitary force operating out of Malakal, the GOS-held capital of the Upper Nile.

Thousands of Nuer civilians from northern Upper Nile, known as the “White Army” (civilian militias) or “Decbor” / "Jiec in Boor" also entered the fray. Nasir faction commanders were either unable or unwilling to control the Anyanya II White Army personnel, who formed the vast majority of the attacking force. Their primary objectives were looting and revenge for earlier SPLM/A attacks on Nuer communities and Anyanya II operational areas. Civilians in these areas had also been heavily taxed by the SPLM/A and were the victims of constant SPLM/A atrocities, including kidnapping young women to be married to soldiers and forced conscription.

The results were catastrophic. An estimated 30,000 Nuer rampaged through Dinka areas, burning houses and killing the inhabitants, leveling hospitals and clinics, destroying crops and stores, killing cattle, and creating chaos throughout Bor district. In December 1991, the UN reported that more than 200,000 residents of the Bor and Kongor districts, in an exodus unlike anything see before in Sudan, fled south in search of food, shelter, and security. Although the final estimates vary widely, as many as 5,000 people were killed. Dinka civilians were shot or “speared or garroted - and in a particularly creative act of cruelty, thousands of cattle were blinded with pangas (machetes).

The destruction or large-scale raiding of cattle devastated the subsistence base and livelihoods of thousands of families in the Bor and Kongor districts. In surveys conducted before the attacks, Norwegian People’s Aid estimated that nearly 400,000 head of cattle populated the area. By January 1992, this number had plummeted to 50,000, the balance having been stolen or killed. This destruction of the Dinka population’s asset base in Upper Nile parallels a similar campaign of asset-stripping perpetrated by the government -financed Arab Baggara militia in 1987-1988 in northern Bahr al-Ghazal, another Dinka population center. One relief official observed that the Dinka “used to wear bright-colored clothes or jellabias; they are now naked or in rags”.

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