By Hereward Holland
JUBA (Reuters) – A heavy-handed government disarmament campaign to halt tribal clashes in South Sudan’s swampy eastern grasslands has triggered a small armed revolt against the rulers of the world’s newest state, threatening planned oil exploration in the area.
The budding insurgency in Jonglei state led by Murle militia chief David Yau Yau, a former theology student, may not number more than a few dozen fighters.
But there are fears it could escalate by feeding on local grievances against South Sudan’s army.
The leaders of former civil war foes Sudan and South Sudan struck a border security deal this week that should be enough to restart suspended oil exports from the South, which became independent from Sudan last year.
But with both sides still deeply mistrustful after decades of enmity, serious doubts remain over whether the uneasy neighbours can share their oil wealth in peace.
Anti-government unrest in Jonglei stems from a muscular disarmament campaign by the South Sudanese military, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), to prevent a repeat of clashes in January between the Murle and Lou Nuer tribes which killed several hundred people.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said in August it received credible
“This is a recipe for recruitment. The disarmament has created an environment ripe for creating a non-state armed group. It’s utterly predictable,” said one aid worker in the country who asked not to be named.
South Sudan’s army played down the reports of abuses, but said they had already dismissed 30 soldiers.
Authorities in Juba last week accused Sudan of airdropping weapons and ammunition to Yau Yau’s rebels in Jonglei state, which is the site of a vast unexplored oil concession that the government recently split into three.
“There are hawks within the (ruling party) in Khartoum. There are those who are bent on thinking that they can only resolve the issues with the South through war and bringing a lot of instability in this country, supporting various militia groups,” said South Sudan’s government spokesman, Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin.
“Their intention is to scare off investment, that is basically it,” he added.
Sudan’s government and military routinely deny Juba’s accusations that they are backing insurgencies.
OIL AT STAKE
At its independence in July last year, South Sudan inherited the bulk of the oil output produced by previously united Sudan.
Juba shut down its 350,000 barrels per day at the start of the year, alleging Khartoum was ‘stealing’ its oil by diverting it from pipelines through Sudan. The deal struck by Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his southern counterpart, Salva Kiir, in Addis Ababa is expected to restart oil exports.
reports that elements of the SPLA had engaged in killings, rape, beatings and torture during the disarmament campaign, dubbed “Operation Restore Peace”.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) also reported similar abuses, saying most of the victims were women and in some cases children. Read more…