Summarized Report on the Disarmament in Jonglei State by Jonglei Civil Society Group
A Two-week Summarized Report on the Disarmament Operations by Jonglei Civil Society Group
March 25, 2012
For Press Release
In the third week of our field work as Jonglei Civil Society Group in the state as a consortium of indigenous NGOs, CBOs, FBOs, youths and artists associations from Lou-Nuer, Murle and Bor-Dinka communities in particular, and other ethnic groups of Jonglei State in general, we kicked off our mission with the monitoring of the disarmament exercise conducted in the towns and villages of Jonglei State from the 14th to the 24th of March, 2012.
During our involvement as sensitizing and monitoring team in between the communities and the disarmament forces (mainly the SPLA and South Sudan Police Services), Our Mobile Team collected the following information from the communities and authorities, who are involved in the Operation Restore Peace (ORP) in Jonglei State:
a)- GREATER BOR: As opposed to the general anticipation that the disarmament operations would instantly turn bloody, it was not the case during the first two days. In Bor, where the disarmament kicked off first, our observers did not see any force-to-force confrontation. However, a few pockets of scuffles between the armed soldiers and some civilians were reported, but on a person-to-person duel as a result of resistance by some individuals attempting to hinder soldiers from entering and searching their houses, shops or offices. Other civilians clashed with drunk soldiers on duty. Asked why some citizens were beaten up or harassed during the process, one local leader, who requested anonymity, said, “People refuse to give soldiers access to their property because they do not trust them.” He blamed the past experiences whereby some people lost their belongings in such searches.
Nevertheless, in the first week of our involvement, the JCSG mobile team recorded major incidences in Bor County’s Kolnyang Payam, Pariak Boma. The soldiers who combed through the villages at night raped one breastfeeding mother. The two culprits were apprehended and are facing court procedures in Bor, the capital of the state. Our team could not get access to talk to the accused soldiers who are in military prison in Malual Chaat, Bor, but their commanders confirmed the arrests and the legal litigations being pursued. Besides, there were sporadic reports of beatings and intimidation by some soldiers in the villages. The Jonglei Civil Society Group (JCSG) team condemned these horrendous acts of torturing or intimidating children and women to expose guns from their men. These complaints were presented by the team to the ORP commander, who promised to correct the situation. So far, the team has seen notable changes in the behavior of the soldiers since the JCSG’s presentations and the subsequent arrests of the culprits in the Bor area. The operations going on in Twic East and Duk Counties of the Greater Bor territory have not recorded major incidences, so far, besides minor complaints from victims of soldiers’ wrong method of gun collection.
Unfortunately, the natives of Bor are torn in between handing their guns over to the armed forces or keeping them to defend themselves from frequent attacks by Murle youth even during the disarmament process. “We are confused,” said one chief from Gok area of Bor County, “we are being attacked by two different forces; one collecting guns from our hands and the other collecting our cattle and killing our children and women from our villages and cattle camps. We do not know who is working for or against who between the SPLA and the Murle.” The old man said when they tell the disarmament forces to attack the cattle raiders, the soldiers said, “We have never been given orders from above.” He gave example of the recent Baidit raids that left two children dead and many heads of cattle taken at Mathiang Boma, the village where the state governor, Kuol Manyang Juuk, hails from. This is the same in the Lou areas of Akobo.
b)- GREATER PIBOR: When our three-member team arrived at Pibor aboard an SPLA helicopter carrying the Governor of Jonglei State, the Minister for Defence (RSS), the SPLA Chief of General Staff, the Commander for Operations Restore Peace – Jonglei, among other government officials and army officers, these observations were made in the first visit, March 15. First, the disarmament process was peaceful in such a way that no organized groups confronted the disarmament troops who were searching the town of Pibor, but news of mounting resistance in the villages were being whispered in Pibor town as the team interacted with some new arrivals from the outskirts of the town. Two days later, the tension calmed down.
In terms of soldiers’ unwarranted procedures, the team witnessed one Sebit, a welder, in the presence of Nyany Korok, Pibor youth leader, being beaten up a few metres from the commissioner’s office, where the top leaders were conducting their briefing. The reason for the incident was not clear but eyewitnesses around told the JCSG team that the man had attempted to resist soldiers’ access to his garage, a report not confirmed from the victim and the soldiers as the two parties were not in position of communicating to the third party. Other incidences of beatings were confirmed on two victims whom the team saw on the MSF health centre wards in Pibor town. The MSF hospital authority advised the team not to interact with the patients or publish their pictures for various reasons, including the fear for the patients being psychologically disturbed by appearance of ‘strange visitors’ in the wards afterwards. One of the two victims was reported to have passed away due to injuries on his head a day later. Several other reports of the youth attacking the disarmament soldiers and vice versa were still trickling in by the time this report was compiled.
The most recent incident being in Boma town, whereby the Maruwo Payam head chief, Baba Mojong, was seriously injured allegedly by the area commander’s body guard as a result of a quarrel as they were drinking together with the chief. The chief was brought to Juba for treatment of bullet wounds according to our contacts in the area. This was not an attack by the youth of the area as initially reported by the ‘phone call media’ reporters. Our coordination team in Juba is monitoring his condition.
In the second visit under the leadership of the Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar and many other top leaders of the South Sudan Government and army to Greater Pibor Area, namely: Manyabol boma (Gumuruk Payam), Boma Payam and Pibor town on March 20, our team members comprising natives of Murle, Jie, Jieng and Lou interacted with many youths and traditional leaders.
In Manyabol, the huge delegation of the Vice President, the governor, Minister for Defence, Deputy Minister for Interior, the area MPs and the civil society members from JCSG among others were received by huge crowd dancing and ululating. The chiefs and youth leaders pledged to hand over their guns, given an assurance that the government put forth guarantees to protect them. To demonstrate goodwill and their promise, Chief Gulech Wawu handed over his gun to the Vice President after completing his speech.
The team proceeded to Pibor, then to Boma Payam (Jie and Kachipo areas) and then back to Pibor. While in Boma, the government delegations and the civil society members met three ethnic groups of Murle, Jie and Kachipo inhabiting the area, which converged in Boma town. The VP and the team wanted to know the level of peace and coexistence among the three communities in the area and their readiness to surrender their guns to the government. The meeting ended successfully with both sides stressing their assurances if certain conditions are met, especially the exchange of guns for security that the communities demand from the government during the disarmament exercise throughout the state. The Vice President returned to Pibor and remained in the Murle areas for two more days of sensitize.
The second day, the team visited Nanam areas of northern Murle, namely Bichibich, Raprap (Gumuruk) and Karyak of Likuangole Payam. The meeting at Bichibich Swampland revealed the initial lack of cooperation between the soldiers and the civilians in the area. Due to lack of sufficient and efficient awareness on disarmament, the locals were reported to have vacated the village upon sighting the SPLA forces coming into their area. They laid an ambush in anticipation of any action by the soldiers, but the tension was defused by the disarmament forces who broke into the cordone without shooting. They collected 234 guns according to the area commander.
In Karyak boma, the incident of shooting had taken place on the first day of the entry of the SPLA forces. The youth opened fire on the soldiers’ APC (armoured personnel carrier) vehicle, killing one soldier and wounding the driver, also a soldier. The SPLA did not retaliate by fire but swiftly deployed around the village, putting the villagers under arrest so that they would not interact with other villages or call for more reinforcement from their youth in the bush. In a separate incidence, one soldier was killed by unidentified group after he was overtaken by their pickup APC car. It is also claimed he was killed along with one 12-year old boy. The SPLA managed to seize 54 AK47 rifles, and 34 different makes of rifles, which were voluntarily handed in by the chief after the siege of his boma. The Vice President went and defused the tension and the two parties are now coexisting and cooperating in the operation. The tensest area of operation in Murle land is Ngantholoch. There the civilians did not cooperate with the forces, hence a confrontation is said to have taken the lives of a number of soldiers and policemen in the hands of the youth who have scattered in the bush. Since the team did not reach that outlying village, the number of deaths, which were claimed by the locals was not confirmed by our JCSG Mobile Monitoring Team.
On March 17, the Vice President with the governor and an entourage of ministers and MPs, in company of our Jonglei Civil Society Group team and UN delegations travelled to Greater Akobo area. In Akobo town, the VP and the Governor requested the community of Lou-Nuer to peacefully hand over their guns. Their peaceful request was accepted but with a number of conditions. The head chief of Akobo asked the Vice President and the governor to first give them security before they hand over their guns and threatened to take legal actions if no defence is given in exchange. “We hereby give you our guns, the only hope we have for our defence, but if you fail to defend our community, and should there be any other attacks after the guns collection, we chiefs will get some means of taking the South Sudan government to the International Criminal Court for war crimes,” Chief Yien Chuol of Akobo told the government in his language. After a three hour meeting at Akobo, the delegation split into two, one to Yuai, headquarters for Uror County, and the other to Waat, Headquarters for disarmament forces in Nyirol County.
In Waat, the crowd turned up to welcome the delegation of the Minister for Defence. They slaughtered a white bull as a sign of homecoming and cleansing, which is widely practiced by the communities of South Sudan. The church was packed with women, men, youth and chiefs who turned up to listen to the briefing by the government visit. The Minister for Defence and other speakers pleaded with the chiefs and the youths to hand over their weapons, stressing the negative effects of the guns on their communities. One Chiefs’ representative cautioned the government against the ongoing attacks by Murle youths on the Greater Lou area despite the present of disarmament soldiers in the villages. From the audience, one boy shot up and made a warning statement, which he directly addressed to the Minister for Defence, Gen. John Kong Nyuon. “I have just given my guns to you (through his chief) this morning. That means I have given away my ‘salary’, but if I hear the Murle youth attacking my village again, we know how to recover the guns from your own soldiers,” he warned. The government assured the crowd that they would give protection.
In Yuai, headquarters for Uror County, the Vice President and the governor, H.E. Kuol Manyang Juuk, addressed the crowd with the same message as in Akobo. Uror is the county where Lou Chief Magicians had been releasing controversial statements against the disarmament exercise and the peace process, which was handled by the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. Unfortunately, the spiritual leader, Dak Kuoth, did not attend the meeting by the Vice President and the Governor. He and 7 other youth members were reported to have fled the area into the bush for fear of their lives. Sources in the area told our JCSG team that some politicians and other individuals had called the magician and warned him that the Vice President was coming to arrest him, based on the speech of the President, in which he made mention of the Kujur leader who was a stumbling block to the peace and disarmament process. The spiritual leader was reported a day after the government delegations visit to have clashed with the disarmament forces. However, the actual details of the clashes were not clear since no eyewitness was there alongside the SPLA and the spiritual leaders’ men. The JCSG team member who was in Akobo town and another contact point in Uror told the team there was a clash but the chiefs, politicians and other leaders went in and were mediating between the two parties.
Therefore, the JCSG team is hereby calling upon the public, especially the online community of South Sudan, to ignore the propaganda that has been released allegedly by the former late George Athor’s rebel elements. The press release that is going round the world online (Sudan Tribune and South Sudan News Agency) claims that the white army together with the rebels clashed with the SPLA, killing 420 and capturing many vehicles and arms. This is an outright lie intended to confuse the public and give credit to defeated rebels who are desperately seeking alliance with the tribal youth. This report is also dismissing the connection of the rebels and the Lou youth with Murle youth in one objective of overthrowing the governments. That is a shallow propaganda.
Instead, it is the Murle youth who attacked Puokbor village in Nyirol County. The cattle raiders killed three villagers and wounded six others, and took away unidentified number of cattle. Fortunately, the SPLA disarmament forces pursued the attackers and recovered all the cattle, killing six of the attackers instantly. By the time of this media briefing, the forces were still after the surviving attackers. “There was an attack in Nyirol at 1.00AM last night, which left 3 civilians dead, but the attackers were pursued by our forces, under the command of Maj. Gen. Peter Gatdet Yaka and Brig. Gen. Kuai Ajak. Our disarmament forces killed six on the spot and recovered all the cattle. Now, the Lou community are celebrating and congratulating the SPLA,” said Gen. Kuol Deim Kuol, Commander for Operation Restore Peace (ORP) in Jonglei, to the JCSG general secretary in Bor town on Friday, 23 March, 2012.
2- Arms Collected
On March 14, in Bor, the disarmament forces’ commander, Maj. Gen. Kuol Deim Kuol, and the state governor, H.E. Kuol Manyang Juuk, displayed over 4,000 guns to the media and the public at Malual Chaat, an army garrison at the outskirt of the state capital, Bor. According to Gen. Kuol Deim, some of the guns were collected from the stores of police and prisons since there was a strong belief that those guns were not licenced to individuals in the police, prisons and wild life departments. Unconfirmed reports also point to the fact that some individuals had connived with the police to hide their guns in those garrisons stores. The seized arms were stored at the army base of Malual Chaat, about 5 kilometres outside the town. The sight and size of the first catch of disarmament process puzzled everybody, including the governor who confessed, “We were sitting on a time bomb in Bor town,” referring to the huge cache of arms that were collected from the town, most of which could not be accounted for. The arms collected on the first day of disarmament in Bor, which marked the launcing the exercise in the state, include motors, submachine guns, AK47s, pistols and many rounds of munitions, some dating back to the old Sudan times. At a rare display, one soldier wielded a sword, which he claimed he confiscated from one Ethiopian restaurant owner.
Unlike in Bor town, our team could not access and ascertain the number of arms collected from Pibor town and its outside payams because the disarmament process is still ongoing. Nevertheless, we were informed by Nyany Korok, the Murle youth leader, who is one of our contact persons in Pibor, that not many guns were recovered from within the towns because the youth in the towns were not armed. Only 28 guns were collected on the first day of the operation.” He added that the youth who are suspected to be having arms stayed deep in the villages. The disarmament forces are reported to have reached the remote areas of the state by the time this statement was released to the public. Nevertheless, the guns collected at Gumuruk bomas and Pibor, some of which our team witnessed, were reported to be 300.
The disarmament exercise had not kicked off in Akobo town by the time of this press release; however, there is a comprehensive disarmament carried out in Nyirol, Uror and Akobo West as seen by our team in Waat and Yuai. All in all, the number of arms collected in Greater Akobo area could not be verified and confirmed by the time this press release was sent, but estimates from the collection centres put the figure close to 1,000 by March 23. In Twic East, Duk and Pochalla counties, the disarmament exercise just kicked off so the number of the arms collected is yet be confirmed.
In total, the disarmament authorities have estimated over 9,000 guns collected so far. That is slightly half of 20,000, the targeted number of guns the forces are aiming to collect in the entire Jonglei State.
Alongside the disarmament operation, Jonglei Civil Society team has discovered other areas of interests during their two-week tour of the counties and villages of Jonglei. First, there are a number of children, women and men who report themselves to the team and ask to be taken along to their communities from where they were abducted in the raids and counter-raids that have rocked the state since the signing of the comprehensive agreement, and which escalated upon the declaration of the independence of South Sudan as a republic.
For instance, in Bichibich boma of Gumuruk Payam, Pibor County, the JCSG mobile team interacted with a man who was abducted 20 years ago from one of the Bor villages he faintly remembered as Athoc-Twic, meaning one of the villages either in Athooch (Bor County) or Twic East County. The man wanted to come and trace his former relatives, but he had no one to leave behind to take care of his two wives, children and cattle. He said he had no intention of permanently returning to his former tribe but would just like to know his roots so that he lives happily. Two women, one Yom from Duk and the other Tabitha from Uror also expressed their feelings to the team members. Yom said she had been walking with the disarmament forces in search of his two sons abducted from Duk in one of the numerous raids carried out by Murle youth from Nanam areas. She fortunately found one of her sons, and is still pursuing the missing one.
However, the disarmament forces were not cooperating enough to sustain her search for the missing one because it is out of their mandate to discover and reunify relatives. In the second week of the operation, one Murle women was recovered with three children from Lou-area. They were handed over to their community through the Governor’s office in Bor. More abductees on both sides of Lou and Murle are desperately looking for ways to go back to their communities. This is a new task the disarmament and also the monitoring teams are facing in the field. Our 45 mobile caravan team will tackle this issue on their mission through the ‘conflict triangle’ most affected by these chronic tribe-based wars.
Besides humans, there are stolen cattle yet to be recovered to their owners. As the disarmament is going on, the marauding youth, especially from Murle, are taking advantage of the disarmament and are raiding cattle from their neighbors. Some of the major incidences of raids took place in Puokbor village of Nyirol County last week and Mathiang village of Bor on Saturday, 24 March, 2012. According to SPLA disarmament commanders and local sources in the area, the cattle stolen from Nyirol and Bor last week were recovered from the raiders by their forces. However, this has created tension and doubt between the communities and the disarmament forces. The major question that has been asked by all the Jonglei tribes during the government tour of the areas is: “What is the guarantee to our security if we give you our guns?” This is a great setback to the operations, which is believed to provide solution to the atrocities the armed civilians have committed among their communities.
Level of Cooperation among the parties involved.
The disarmament process, according to the best of our team’s report, was successful because the armed forces and the civil population in Bor, Pibor and Nyirol maintained a good level of tolerance and understanding during the operations on the first one week of the operation. For instance, most people, especially members of the armed forces who were caught off guard or countered outside their duty stations did not resist. Most of the officers from the police, army and wild life services gave up their guns and uniforms, and were later seen claiming their belongings at the operation centres. Even the police themselves, whose stations were raided, gave in their initial resistance.
In relation to that, the commander of Operation Restore Peace (ORP) in Jonglei allowed observers and the media to access the army barracks and the arms depot for the public display of the collected arms. Among the beneficiaries of this cooperation was the Jonglei Civil Society Group, the only local and biggest team that has entered an MOU with the SPLA and State Government to take part in psychological disarmament of Jonglei communities, over the last 10 days. The Commander, Gen. Kuol Dim, has promised more cooperation with civil society to the end of the program. This Memorandum of understanding is to cover the period of disarmament, which will see an independent report from the 30 indigenous organizations and associations in the Jonglei Civil Society Group. Unlike other international and national NGOs that have chosen not to participate in this exercise, the JCSG believes the Phase I of their peace building process is the disarmament.
To conclude, Jonglei Civil Society Group is yet to determine whether the process of disarmament is either forceful or peaceful as the exercise reaches the rural areas, which are expected to be the hotspots of the armed civilians.
For more comprehensive and credible peace-building process, Jonglei Civil Society Group will deploy 45 youths in the ‘Tribal Conflict Triangle’ of Jonglei State this week, the Week III of our operation timetable. The 45 youths, 15 of which have volunteered from each of the major tribes of Lou, Bor and Murle, will be stationed in three rotational peace caravan camps, namely Duk, Akobo (Waat) and Pibor. Each of the three camps is made up of 15 members, 5 of whom represent each of the three greater ethnic groups in the conflict triangle of Pibor, Bor and Akobo. They will recruit 30 more members from the bases, to make 45 from each camp, 15 camp-based and 30 home-based assessment members. There will be a team of 30 heads of organizations, CBOs and county youth associations in the mobile peace caravan team to network the camps during the 45 days of the conflict study process.
For more information, please contact the undersigned.
Secretary General, JCSG,
Bor, Jonglei State.
0955 235 997 / 0977 368 888