South Sudan - Tribal Warfare 2006

The Sudanese government introduced a disarmament program in Jonglei in December 2005. During a conference with the SPLA/SSDF in January, local Dinka and Nuer chiefs agreed to disarmament of non- military personnel, with regional security provided by a united SPLA/SSDF force. The SPLA decided to begin with Nuer cattle herders around Yuai, the are from which the "White Army" originates. The operation initially went smoothly, until an SPLA soldier reportedly raped a Nuer woman, and other SPLA soldiers beat a number of civilians until they surrendered weapons that they had claimed not to possess. The SPLA confiscated 220 guns and recruited 180 new troops, who were able to keep their weapons. Villages in their line of march began emptying before the SPLA troops arrived as word of the abuses - much embellished in the retelling - spread.

Soon the forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) were confronted by White Army elements of the Lou Nuer community who fiercely resisted what they saw as forced disarmament. By late January 2006, the situation took a turn for the worse when a disarmament initiative led by the Sudan People’s Liberated Army resulted in a tense standoff between the SPLA troops and armed civilians in the center of Lou Nuer territory. Although Nuer leaders had approved, young Nuer men from the area decided not to disarm. With Yuai completely dry, these herders were planning a seasonal migration to Ayod and Bor, and they believed they would need their weapons to protect their cattle from theft by the Merle in Ayod and the Dinka in Bor, neither of whom had been disarmed. After an initial argument between local armed herders with SPLA advance officers in a local market, a larger SPLA contingent arrived, expecting no trouble. Upon arrival, the locals, joined by members of the White Army and affiliated elements of the South Sudan Defense Force (SSDF), attacked the arriving SPLA group.

The main body of the SPLA force arrived just as the fracas commenced, and utter chaos reigned. Virtually every White Army militiaman in the town, plus local SSDF troops, raced toward the shooting, as did the SPLA, and the market was engulfed in close combat. Realizing the operation had gone hopelessly awry, the SPLA commander ordered a retreat by his men and the smaller Yirol SSDF force, all of whom fled the town in disarray. The firefight left at least 60 dead, mostly from the SPLA. Not all casualties were from direct combat, as some SPLA troops fled into the bush, became lost, and subsequently died of thirst.

The Nuer prophet Wut Nyang Garakek was killed while taking part in the mediation effort. Reputedly a member of the White Army who led the troops on the ground during the Bor Massacre, Nyang believed he still had influence in the area. However, last year, a different self-proclaimed prophet had led a group of Nuer from Jonglei to the "Promised Land" near Akobo, and established a cult that engaged in strange rituals, such as women walking around naked. After this experience, Minister of Culture, Youth, and Sports John Luc Jok reported that Nyang was killed because the already overwrought locals were no longer tolerant of such prophets.

Members of the SPLA committed serious abuses, particularly early in 2006 during forced disarmament campaigns targeting the White Army, the Nuer ethnic militia, which resulted in numerous killings and the displacement of thousands of civilians. In March and April 2006, SPLA attempts to disarm the White Army as part of a broader Government of Southern Sudan-sponsored, CPA-mandated disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program provoked armed clashes between the parties, and 99 civilians were murdered.

In late April 2006, Lou Nuer herders, many of whom are young men affiliated with the White Army tribal militia, refused to disarm and then moved their herds west from the arid area around Yuai to the banks of the Toich River, forcing their way through the normal territory of other groups. Vice President Riek Machar, Security and Police Minister Daniel Awet, SPLA officers, tribal chiefs, and area MPs had held meetings seeking a peaceful solution to the contentious migration, including disarmament of the White Army. Some herders reportedly agreed to surrender their arms in return for SPLA escort and protection, but when teams of chiefs, SPLA officers, and White Army representatives went to collect the arms from various cattle camps, some agreed (and turned over 700 arms) while others refused, saying disarmament would prevent them from protecting their herds from rival groups.

SPLA troops escorting the disarmed groups reportedly began requisitioning as many as 30 cattle per day for food. The herders complained, then drove their herds to join other camps that had not disarmed. SPLA troops followed the retreating Lou toward the armed camps, where a SPLA reconnaissance force stumbled into a White Army force. In the ensuing clash, the White Army defeated the SPLA force. The next morning, on or about April 26, a reinforced SPLA force with truck-mounted heavy weapons attacked a camp and defeated the White Army. Forty-three herders were killed in the fighting, including six women and two children. When the Lou fighters fled the scene, the SPLA reportedly seized the cattle left behind. The White Army counterattacked and in turn defeated the SPLA, which suffered an unknown number of casualties.

International observers and humanitarian agencies repeatedly called on the SPLA to abandon forcible disarmament programs, and implement a more consultative approach to integrating other armed groups. Recruitment of child soldiers was a serious problem in the country. On 17 August 2006, the UN issued the Report of the Secretary-General on children in armed conflict in the Sudan, which cited the recruitment of child soldiers by the SAF, SPLA, and the White Army.

By June 2006 Fighting between an estimated 9,000 SPLA troops and the 20,000 strong Lou Nuer militia, known as the White Army, had ceased. The disarmament continued, with large numbers of White Army fighters surrendering (one of) their weapons. The heavy nature of some of the weaponry ) machineguns and rocket launchers ) belied White Army claims that they were a lightly armed militia and did not belong in the category of other armed groups (OAGs).

Hundreds of civilians and SPLA soldiers were killed, houses and villages burnt and cattle looted. While the Jonglei disarmament campaign was successful in collecting weapons, an estimated 400 SPLA and 1,200 White Army fighters were killed, and government officials reported at least 213 civilian deaths. In addition, the forced disarmament campaign produced food shortages, as the White Army took cattle and goats from civilians. Despite the violence, community chiefs acknowledge that no functioning government can be established in the region without a comprehensive disarmament of the various armed groups.


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