“Rushed and Poorly Planned Disarmament Will Result in Mass Atrocities and Genocide”, The Lou Nuer Community in Diaspora Warned.
March 13, 2012 (SSNA) — The current disarmament in Jonglei state, Republic of South Sudan, raises several concerns, most important of which are timing and capacity. With the announcement of the disarmament plan by South Sudan authorities on South Sudan TV (February 28, 2012), government troops, numbering in thousands, have been deployed across Jonglei state to carry out the disarmament exercise code named Operations Restore Peace. But just last week (March 9, 2012) 1, 500 people – mostly women and children, were killed by some 5000 heavily armed Murle militia, who also wounded 500 people. This merciless attack happened in the Toch (grassing land) area of Romyieri, where the Lou Nuer civilians of the Akobo East County, seasonally migrate for their cattle’s grassing needs. This is in addition to the continuous raids (enumerated below) across the Lou Nuer counties since the disarmament was announced. With all these happening right under the watchful (or not so) eyes of the disarmament troops, the question that any sane individual would like to have answer is where will the army gains the capacity or will to protect the innocent Lou Nuer civilians from the heavily armed Murle militia who terrorize them daily? We ask this question because there is no doubt in our minds that the army will not be able to disarm the heavily armed Murle militia who are not in Murle territory but roaming in the Lou Nuer bushes! Therefore, Lou Nuer community members in Diaspora and at home are not only concerned with how the current disarmament will be successfully (in the case of Murle) carried out by the government troops in Jonglei State but fear possible genocide in its aftermath, since the government has previously proposed the same type of disarmament but failed to collect arms in the hands of the Murle community. Furthermore, Lou Nuer civilians previously volunteered in two consecutive disarmament exercises and handed over their arms to the government. The result of this courageous act has been a nightmare for the last 6 years because not only has it left them vulnerable, but it encouraged the atrocious attacks and raids from the Murle community with no deterrence, leaving the Lou Nuer children, women and elderly in deplorable situation.
For this reason, ordinary people and experts, local and International alike, questioned the timing of the exercise and its potential for success. For one thing, the concerned public has not been adequately educated on the blueprint of the plan, specially the short and long terms goals, and second, a definition of success has not been formulated, particularly, how will they disarm Murle? In the absence of these two important components, namely the blueprint of the plan and what constitutes a successful disarmament, people are left guessing on what to expect. Genocide and mass atrocities are the only possible answers to these questions. Adding insult to the injury is the current killing spree (part of it is summarized above) by the Murle tribesmen across the Lou Nuer land right under the noses and in the eyes of the government disarmament troops.
With the Lou Nuer counties still being raided daily by a combined force of the SPLA contingents from the Murle community, who defected recently and still at large, the overriding question of how to account for them continues to loom. Everybody thought that the presence of the army troops would ushered a secure feeling among the Lou Nuer communities because they thought they will showcase what the post disarmament would feel like. They have so far only showcased the opposite. They have showcase it by letting the Murle tribemen roam free, kill, abduct and loot cattle at will. With the latest attacks happening after the deployment of the government troops in the state, one wonders how you would convince anyone to hand in their guns when they know they can be killed anytime. Again, it happened last week in Romyieri in the Akobo East County when thousands of people were killed and all the cattle looted by the Murle who carried out a mut (a long tern planned and well organized attack). What the world does not know about this continuous and vicious intertribal conflict in the state is that the Lou Nuer community has actually been and continues to be the victim despite what has been depicted in the media after self defense assault on the Murleland late last year. To this end, a brief summary of their grievances would present a clear picture and underscores their concern of seeing history repeating itself during or in the aftermath of the current disarmament.
Lou Nuer Civilians Grievances:
Whereas the most vivid incident of the intertribal conflict between the Lou Nuer and the Murle communities seems to be the December of 2011 retaliatory attack on the Murle villages around Lilkuangole and Pibor, buried beneath the rubbles of media favoritism are a series of deadly attacks, raids and abductions of Lou Nuer women and children that prompted that attack. During that attack, South Sudan Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, along with some Lou Nuer elders and officials, flown to Lilkuangole with intent to persuade the Lou Nuer youth who went to Murleland to recover their abducted children and cattle taken four months earlier. It should be noted that the Lou Nuer waited four months because the government promised them it will recover their abducted children but to no avail. This explains why the Lou Nuer civilians feel the government cares about the lives of the Murle more than it does theirs because it was not the first time such promises were made to them but not kept. It also explains why they now feel that they will be at a great risk, as demonstrated by the current attacks, when they hand in their arms. Between 2005 and 2012, the Lou Nuer civilians lost more lives than all the other communities in the whole South Sudan combined.
With all the killing incidents that took place in the Lou Nuer land, the civilians feel that the government has turned a blind eye on them during the time of their greatest need. While the examples of such incidents are plenty and enumerating all of them is not possible, it suffices to point out a few of them.
On August 18, 2011, Murle gunmen who dressed in Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) uniforms attacked Pieri payam of Uror County and murdered nearly 1000 people, but neither the Vice President Dr. Riek Machar nor President Salva Kiir Mayardit, visited the bereaved community. Also missing were government emergency response on the scene, protection of the remaining and bereaving families, and media reports. Other massacres, namely Mareng and Nyandit, televised by Aljazeera, received little attention from the government or the local media. As these and many other incidents unfolded, the government was aware that Lou civilians were disarmed, and the Murle Community was not.
As community that is desperately eager to live peacefully with its neighbors, the Lou Nuer youth has respectfully adhered to the calls of many mediators, including the Vice President, to return to their land after Murleland invasion with the promise that their grievances will be addressed. These promises included a return of their abducted children (180) and women, compensation for their losses, and security provision, to name just a few. None of these has been fulfilled while the Murle community is enjoying the government and UN protection.
As we speak and to underscore the gravity of the Lou Nuer Plight, Murle gunmen, partly army defectors, are attacking every corner of the Lou Nuer land, killing innocent people randomly and stealing cattle on daily basis. Since the Lou Nuer youth came back from the Murleland, the number of attacks steadily increased in the Lou Nuer areas between December 23, 2011 and March, 2012. One wonders why the government doesn’t prove that it can indeed provide protection to this vulnerable population after the current disarmament. One of the attacks, which claimed the lives of 13 people, occurred in Yiedit and Ulang. Four women, two of whom were breastfeeding their babies and two pregnant ones, were recently killed by the Murle gunmen in Akobo West. They killed 19 people in Gatnyanhial also in the Akobo West, and 22 people in Dengjok payam of Akobo East. During the Wechdeang attack by army defectors from Waat Army base, 17 people were killed. One of the most recent attacks was carried out on March 2, 2012 in Nyirol County and claimed the lives of 23 people, and the latest in Romyeiri claimed 1500 lives and wounded 500. Again, we want to reiterate that all these attacks took place after the troop deployment in the state. Is this the sign of things to come in the Lou Nuer land? Any sound minded person would think so given the pattern of attacks!
Once again, the burning and recurring question is how are the government troops going to disarm the Murle militia who are scattered in the Lou Nuer land rather than their villages? A good and logical answer to this question is not only necessary but will determine whether the current killings in the Lou Nuer territories will reach unimaginable proportion if the Lou Nuer are prematurely disarmed as has been the case in the past.
Having expressed these legitimate and serious grievances of the Lou Nuer civilians, we, the Lou Nuer Community in Diaspora, want to make it crystal clear that we are for peace in Jonglei and South Sudan, and we will do everything we can to see that happens. That is one of the reasons we want to be truthful with the government by analyzing the implications of a premature disarmament exercise that could result in genocide. But peace doesn’t mean much when you don’t have a family. Although we want to ask our communities in all counties to cooperate with the government authorities, it does not take a rocket scientist to know that it would apparently be a death sentence given the current state of affairs. They are dying as we speak and we know it will get worse. Although we would like to say that we will adapt whatever position taken by our chiefs, elders and county commissioners in cooperating with authorities, this will come with preconditions. We want to reassure the international community that we are not calling for war or confrontation with the government, but we have to call things by their names if we want to avoid genocide in Lou Nuer land. The international community also has a responsibility to prevent it. We are stating this because we know that our community has been given a bad name in the Diaspora by the enemy of peace, but we want to urge the authorities in Juba and Bor to refrain from mistakenly taking the media misinformation as the official position of the Lou Nuer Community in the Diaspora because it is not. However, what you are reading is the official position of the Lou Nuer Community in the Diaspora and taking it seriously will not only be expedient but strategic. Again, Lou Nuer Community in the Diaspora is not a warmonger and will never wage war via remote controls! We, however, feel sharing the real issues, whose redress is necessary to change the status quo, is the only way to shut up the warmongers. To that end, we are here by providing a way forward in order to minimize post disarmament disaster, mass killing and a potential genocide.
Because we want peace in Jonglei, we support the disarmament but we want to make it abundantly clear that we oppose the timing. Again, we categorically oppose the current disarmament unless the timing changes or the Lou Nuer are the last to be disarmed. Because we want the disarmament to mean something other than a futile exercise, we want the government to first take the necessary steps to avoid the atrocities that are taking place as we speak. We don’t want the disarmament to simply be a random exercise but an integral part of a long term vision of sustainable peace and development not only in the state of Jonglei but the whole country. The success of the exercise can only be measured by how many lives saved after the fact not the increase in the number of attacks and deaths as we are seeing. Therefore, to prevent genocide and mass killings that we are currently witnessing, the following are necessary steps that, if taken seriously as they should, would get us a step closer to that end:
- Buffer Zone: the government troops in the state should create a buffer zone now before the disarmament so that these daily killings can stop. No trust can be built when civilians are dying every day. Allow 6 months grace period to evaluate the effectiveness of the buffer zones. If no attack occurs within these 6 months grace period, then a voluntary disarmament would commence. Otherwise, the buffer zone enforcement would continue until the desired result is achieved. We can say with high level of certainty that the Lou Nuer civilians will be the first to hand in their arms, if they feel secured.
- Immediate and sincere protection: During this grace period, the government and UN troops should provide immediate protection to the civilians across the Lou Nuer land as being done to the Murle communities. It should be noted that since the December attack, there has not been a single attack in any of the Murle villages from the Lou Nuer. If this is a government for all, you cannot protect one community and not extend the same service to the other
- Justice: Bring the army deserters to book. Most of the trouble taking place in the Lou Nuer land is cause by the army deserters who left the army late last year. The army has to be responsible for its deserters.
- Code of conduct: create a military code to deal with the army deserter in a serious fashion and seriously enforce it.
- Helicopters: provide three (or the necessary number) gunship helicopters to monitor movements across the buffer zone and prevent movement by the Murle tribesmen
- Incentive and/or compensation for disarmament: Provide incentive or compensation for the guns collected during the disarmament because civilians invested their capitals in them and are therefore part of their economy and livelihood
Finally, we want to reiterate that the disarmament cannot be done, much less successful, if the Lou Nuer civilians are still being killed and terrorized on daily basis by the Murle while the army is in the state. We feel that trust is a precondition for any serious disarmament. We feel that the government can convince the civilians during the grace period that it can indeed do what it says by actually doing it. We want to once again reiterate that we cannot ask the civilians to give up their guns while they are dying every day in return for the government protection that never came in the past or even shown any promises now when the chance presents themselves. We want to point out that history has not been on the side of the government as far as the promise for protection is concern. Nonetheless, it is our hope that our government will reverse history of this kind once and for all, and only during the grace period can the missing trust be rekindled.
* Lou Nuer Media Group (Diaspora) is a sanctioned body elected by the Lou Nuer community during an international teleconference early this year to speak on behalf of the community. It can be reached at [email protected].