(NAIROBI) – A report based on extensive assessment of the fighting in the oil-rich Unity state has revealed that president Salva Kiir’s government strategically has been arming and using Bul-Nuer clan to do most of the fighting against their fellow Nuer communities in the state, prompting fears that the intra-Nuer conflict may persist even if a peace agreement is signed in Addis Ababa with the armed opposition faction led by former vice president, Riek Machar.
A comprehensive report by Human Security Baseline Assessment (Small Arms Survey) which covers the ongoing fighting in Unity state from January up to July 2015 said the government had been in its campaign in southern Unity state in which forces of the South Sudanese army (SPLA) were aided by Bul Nuer fighters, recruited by Matthew Puljang, and promised a share in the spoils of war.
The report, released on Friday, said fighters from the Bul-Nuer clan, in what the other Nuer communities said was the worst betrayal to their community by their own clan, have joined with armed youth and forces from Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states to destroy villages of other Nuer communities, burning villages, looting livestock, killing, torturing and raping their women and girls, throwing them into fire after rape and castrating boys, or killing them.
It said Major General Puljang, a Bul-Nuer, has been recruiting more fighters from the Bul community to continue with the destruction of other Nuer communities in Unity state on behalf of the government.
“On 19 June, a force of approximately 8,000 Bul Nuer youth marched past the Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) site on its way south. This force raided Guit and Koch on 20–25 June, and then moved further south, to Leer,” says the report.
“The SPLA, and its associated Bul Nuer fighters, targeted Nuer civilians and committed widespread sexual violence against Nuer women,” it says.
In mid-June, Unity state government led by Joseph Monytuil Wijang, a Bul-Nuer, whose brother, Bapiny Monytuil, is also a military commander in the state, issued an announcement which warned that anyone not aligned with the rebel forces (SPLA-IO) should move their cattle to Bentiu capital or else face the consequences.
In the Bul-Nuer led operations against the other Nuer civilians, over 100,000 civilians were displaced across many Nuer inhabited counties in the southern part of the state, and between 70,000 and 100,000 heads of cattle were looted and driven to Bentiu by the joint Bul-Nuer and Dinka fighters.
On 19 June, a force of approximately 8,000 Bul Nuer youth marched past the Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) site on its way south. This force raided Guit and Koch on 20–25 June, and then moved further south, to Leer. Youth from Koch joined in this raiding, after they were promised a free hand in the south. These raids have the capacity to create serious intra-ethnic conflict between the Nuer of southern Unity and Bul Nuer from Mayom county that are already blamed for siding
According to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) site contained 78,308 people as of 25 June, many of whom were the previous owners of the cattle who were displaced by fighting and their cattle looted by the South Sudanese army.
Also in February and March 2014, the SPLA, aided by the elements of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudanese rebel group originating in Darfur, pushed into southern Unity, displacing “thousands of people, capturing livestock, razing villages, killing civilians, and raping women.”
The report says the government’s offensive was designed to disrupt the SPLA-IO, punish its supporters, and acquire resources.
“Rather than the offensive being a series of military victories, fought against entrenched SPLA-IO positions, the assault was characterized by attacks on the villages of southern Unity—it was a demographic war, waged against the population, and carried out by raiding, with the livestock and resources carried back to Bentiu, and into northern Unity,” it observed.
It further said the South Sudanese army moved troops east from Warrap state into Abiemnom county in Unity state and then into Bentiu, while preparing forces in Lakes and Warrap states for an assault from the south of Unity state.
The report also quoted the South Sudanese president Salva Kiir in his statements in two separate speeches at the end of March in which he proclaimed that the best way to deal with Riek Machar, the leader of the SPLA-IO, whose home state is being destroyed, is to destroy his forces or stronghold and “make him come home, just like in 2002.”
FEAR OF CONTINUOUS CONFLICT
The report relayed fears of the possibility that the intra-Nuer conflict may continue beyond a peace agreement as the government has successfully planted hatred and violence between its ally, the Bul-Nuer community, and the rest of the Nuer communities in the oil-rich Unity state.
For many Nuer communities of Dok (Leer) Haak (Mayendit), Jikany (Guit), Jagei (Koch), Leek (Rubkotni), and Nyuong (Panyijiar) counties, the last offensive and the current raiding was only the latest episode in a story of desertion and treachery on the part of the Bul Nuer, who are held to have deserted their Nuer kinsmen by siding with the Dinka-led government in December 2013, and were now taking part in attacks on southern Unity state.
General Puljang, from Bul Nuer, also led offensive against rebel forces over control of the Unity oilfields in Rubkotni and Pariang counties, north of Bentiu towards the Sudanese border. Also another powerful army General Buay Rolnyang, also from Bul Nuer, is the one protecting the remaining Paloch oilfields and Renk county, which connects to Sudan.
But General Peter Gatdet Yak, from Bul Nuer, is the deputy chief of general staff for operations in the rebel forces led by Machar.
Other Nuer communities talk of Bul Nuer as becoming part of the Dinka community as they were being “misguided” after the death of their respected leader, General Paulino Matip Nhial.
“In the Bentiu PoC site, Dok and Jikany Nuer refer to the Bul as ‘Dinka’, and talk openly about taking revenge once the war is over,” the report says.
“The enmity felt by the rest of the Nuer in Unity, and the degree of political and military control currently possessed by Matthew Puljang and Joseph Nguen Monytuel (the current governor, and also a Bul Nuer), makes it highly unlikely they would be willing to give up power within the state,” it further observed.
This political dominance, it said, meant it was hard to see the SPLA-aligned Bul Nuer elite accepting a political settlement that would find a place for Taban Deng Gai, the former governor of the state and one of the SPLA-IO’s lead negotiators.
This situation is aggravated by the fact that Nguen Monytuel is a rival of Taban Deng Gai and the enmity felt between the two men was one of the reasons that Nguen Monytuel initially sided with the SPLA rather than the rebel forces.
A political settlement, however, that leaves the perpetrators of the 2015 offensive in southern Unity state in charge of the state was unlikely to be palatable either to the Nuer-majority of Unity state, or to the political leadership of the of opposition faction.