A new South Sudanese rebel group is threatening to reignite violence in Jonglei state where at least 1,600 people died in ethnic clashes last year, according to the United Nations and Archbishop Daniel Deng.
A 3,000-member militia led by David Yau Yau, a former theology student and candidate for governor, has killed at least 100 government troops since August, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, a research group, said in a report today. South Sudan’s army said 24 of its soldiers died in an Aug. 23 ambush.
“If the David Yau Yau group splits out and begins to attack other communities, then that is very dangerous,” Deng, who leads a government-appointed committee to negotiate peace among rival ethnic groups, said in an Oct. 26 interview.
The violence in Jonglei, an eastern state bordering Ethiopia where Total SA (FP) has a stake in an oil exploration concession, has marred South Sudan’s year-old independence from the north. The authorities in Juba, the capital, accused Sudan of airdropping weapons to the militia within sight of a UN peacekeeping mission post in Pibor County on Sept. 22.
UN mission spokesman Kouider Zerrouk said that while peacekeepers saw a “white, fixed-wing aircraft” drop as many as eight packages, the UN couldn’t identify the contents or who dropped them. Sudan’s army has denied supporting Yau Yau or any rebel group in South Sudan.
The UN Mission in South Sudan, which has about 130 peacekeepers in Pibor County, is “increasingly concerned” that violent incidents believed to be carried out by Yau Yau’s militia and aligned armed youth who have avoided disarmament “constitute a threat to the peace process,” Zerrouk said in an e-mailed response to questions on Oct. 29.
Army spokesman Colonel Kella Dual Kueth said Yau Yau’s militia attacked two towns in Pibor County on Oct. 29, killing a woman and a child. “It was random shelling,” he said.
Kueth dismissed the threat from Yau Yau, saying that “he has just a small group, and we will find him and deal with him.”
The militia attacked a home in Akobo County on Oct. 25, wounding four people, Simon Duoth, commissioner of neighboring Uror County, said the following day in an interview in Yuai, the county capital.
Abuses committed by the government’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA, in a campaign to disarm the warring Murle and Lou Nuer ethnic groups helped Yau Yau, a Murle, to recruit fighters, according to Jonah Leff, author of the Small Arms Survey report. New York-based Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said they documented widespread abuses including rape, beatings and torture in Pibor County.
“For many Murle, the principal enemy is no longer the Lou Nuer but the SPLA,” according to the Small Arms Survey report.
Human Rights Watch, in an Aug. 23 statement, said the “authorities have not taken sufficient steps to curb the violations or hold abusive soldiers accountable.”
Zerrouk said the government has taken some action to address the allegations, including making arrests in rape cases and recalling units involved in the abuses.
Small Arms Survey said the UN mission has “failed to carry out its mandate to protect civilians in the face of widespread SPLA abuses” and hasn’t sufficiently lobbied the government to change the army’s behavior.
Zerrouk rejected the allegation, saying the mission raised its concerns with the army and that failure to bring perpetrators of abuses to justice risks undermining efforts to disarm communities in Jonglei and make peace between them.
Army spokesman Kueth denied the allegations of abuse, saying they are “not true.”
Because the disarmament campaign, known was Operation Restore Peace, was largely successful in taking weapons away from the Lou Nuer tribe and most of the Murle, local officials fear Yau Yau’s militia could run rampant.
“I’m worried because I know that the whole population has been disarmed,” said Duoth, the Uror County commissioner.
Leff, in an Oct. 28 e-mailed response to questions, said such attacks could spark a tribal arms race.
“Since Yau Yau has brought a new influx of weapons into Murleland, Lou Nuer youth have started rearming in preparation for a newly armed Murle attack,” he said in an Oct. 28 e-mailed response to questions.
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