Tag Archives: Nuer

South Sudan – army general resigns citing abuses and ethnic bias


By Katharine Houreld | NAIROBI

A South Sudanese general has resigned, citing abuses by the security forces against civilians and what he called increasing ethnic favouritism in the military, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Saturday.

Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo Swaka, the deputy head of logistics, is the highest-ranking officer to resign since former Vice President Riek Machar fled after his supporters clashed in Juba in July with soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir.

Swaka, widely known as Cirillo, is respected by the international community and Western governments would see his resignation and the charges he has levelled as an indictment of the government, one security expert in Nairobi said.

South Sudan has been riven by conflict since 2013, two years after seceeding from North Sudan. Fighting broke out a few months after Kiir, from the Dinka tribe, sacked Machar, a Nuer. His reinstatement in 2016 lasted just weeks before violence erupted again.

The conflict has increasingly followed ethnic lines, forcing three million people to flee their homes, bringing the nation of 11 million close to famine and leading the United Nations to say South Sudan was on the brink of genocide.

Swaka’s letter reinforced those warnings.

“President Kiir and his Dinka leadership clique have tactically and systematically transformed the SPLA into a partisan and tribal army,” it read, using the acronym for the government Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

“Terrorising their opponents, real or perceived, has become a preoccupation of the government.”

Swaka said the military, police and other security branches systematically recruited Dinka from the president and chief of army staff’s home region. Non-Dinkas and Dinkas who disagreed with the president’s agenda were given remote postings or sidelined, he said.

He also said “soldiers from the Dinka ethnic group have been strategically deployed and posted in non-Dinka areas to support the policy of land occupation.”

Swaka said the military raped and killed civilians and allowed tribal militias to commit the same abuses as well as running a network of secret prisons where torture was endemic.

The government routinely dismisses charges of ethnic bias and blames rebels for stoking trouble. Officials say any soldier committing abuses will be held to account and the president said on Monday any soldier committing rape should be shot.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang did not return calls seeking comment about Swaka’s letter. The presidential spokesman also could not immediately be reached.

U.N. officials and Western governments have accused both sides in the conflict of abuses.

(Editing by Edmund Blair and Louise Ireland)

South Sudan – government rejects additional 4,000 UN troops

Al Jazeera

More than 12,000 UN peacekeeping mission troops have been in South Sudan since it gained independence in 2011 [File: EPA]

South Sudan has announced it will no longer accept the deployment of an additional 4,000 United Nations peacekeepers, saying the security situation in the county has improved.

The regional protection force, authorised by the UN Security Council in August after renewed fighting in the capital, Juba, is meant to strengthen the 13,500-strong UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan

UN dismisses South Sudan peacekeeping force chief

“The government of South Sudan has the ability to provide security and stability for the country and for its citizens without the deployment of a … protection force,” South Sudan’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Mawien Makol Ariik said on Wednesday.

The government’s move is a reversal of its earlier decision in November to accept the troops’ deployment.

Defence Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk also said there was no need for the regional protection forces to be deployed in South Sudan.

“Most of the people abroad still believe that there is fighting in Juba and around the country … but Juba is now secure,” Juuk told DPA news agency.

READ MORE: South Sudan accepts 4,000 more UN peacekeepers

Juuk’s remarks contradict reports of recent fighting in the north and south of the country.

The South Sudanese government had warned in August 2016 that the deployment of more UN forces would marginalise its sovereignty, but later gave its consent amid the threat of an arms embargo.

In December, a UN human rights commission urged a rapid deployment of the additional peacekeepers amid reports of ethnic killings.

A political split between President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his former deputy Riek Machar escalated into a military conflict in December 2013. Tens of thousands have been killed and more than two million displaced.

A unity government was formed in April, but fighting broke out again in July, sending Machar into exile.

The UN’s top human rights official has previously blamed South Sudanese government troops and rebels loyal to the president of ethnically targeted violations, including extrajudicial executions and sexual violence incidences in August 2015.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has previously faced criticism for failing to fully protect civilians facing violence.

In early November, Ban Ki-moon, the former UN secretary-general, dismissedthe commander of the UNMISS force following a damning report that accused the peacekeepers of failing to protect civilians during the outbreak of violence in July.

The report from a UN special investigation found that a lack of leadership in the UNMISS ended in a “chaotic and ineffective response” during the heavy fighting in the capital, Juba, from July 8 to 11 that killed dozens of people.

UN says South Sudan conflict has given rise to horrific sexual violence


By Katharine Houreld | NAIROBI

South Sudanese soldiers brutally raped an elderly woman and a pregnant woman lost her baby after being gang-raped by seven soldiers, according to United Nations investigators.

The U.N. human rights investigators presented the testimonies on Friday, saying increasingly brutal attacks on women are an integral part of spreading ethnic cleansing. They said the violence could spill into genocide.

“The scale of gang rape of civilian women as well as the horrendous nature of the rapes by armed men belonging to all groups is utterly repugnant,” said the chairwoman of the U.N. independent commission on human rights, Yasmin Sooka.

“Women are bearing the brunt of this war along with their children … rape is one of the tools being used for ethnic cleansing.”

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 and had a brief period of celebration before ethnic tensions erupted amid allegations of widespread corruption.

In December 2013, fighting broke out months after President Salva Kiir, from the Dinka ethnic group, sacked vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer.

The sporadic fighting has increasingly taken on ethnic dimensions. Many of the smaller tribes accuse the Dinka of targeting them. Rebels have also targeted Dinka.

Women across the country were being subjected to sexual slavery, tied to trees and gang-raped or passed from house to house by soldiers, said Sooka, who said rebels were also committing atrocities.

Three in five women in U.N.-administered “protection of civilian” sites around the capital Juba experienced rape or sexual assault, according to a 2016 report by the U.N. Population Fund. The sites are meant to offer safe shelter for civilians.

Government officials and commanders on all sides had a legal duty to prevent their soldiers from preying on civilians, said Sooka’s colleague Kenneth Scott, a former prosecutor.

“Commanders, officers will be held accountable for failing to exercise command and control,” he said, warning failure to prevent atrocities could result in prosecution.

The shaky 2015 peace agreement that was supposed to end the latest round of fighting provided for a hybrid court to be set up with responsibilities divided between the African Union and South Sudan, but progress on setting it up was “very slow”, Scott said.

South Sudanese officials were not available to comment on the investigators’ findings, but on Thursday, Kiir told Reuters that no ethnic cleansing was taking place in South Sudan. The military has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.

Scott said the government had had almost “no reaction” to the commission’s findings.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

The genocidal logic of South Sudan’s “gun class”


Alan BoswellTwitter

A researcher on South Sudan’s conflict based in Nairobi, Boswell is exploring the country’s birth and collapse

South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 with ethnic cleansing in the capital, Juba, committed by a government put in power by external brokering aimed at paving the way for the world’s newest nation.

This South Sudan political experiment lasted two and a half years. Its bloody collapse continues, a slow-motion calamity on a par with any crisis in the world.

Last week, the UN special adviser on preventing genocide, Adama Dieng, declared South Sudan at risk of genocide. The sudden focus is warranted but tardy. Some estimate that South Sudan’s death toll rivals Syria’s. But the atrocities described now in South Sudan’s Equatoria region — charred bodies in torched villages, gang rape, depopulation as a tool of war, and political violence waged against perceived ethnopolitical blocs — has characterised the war since its inception.

In the beginning, many observers performed mental gymnastics to downplay the ugly ethnic nature of South Sudan’s war. The new concerns over genocide risk reversing that mistake, casting the violence as chiefly ethnic, not political. Both miss the mark. In a South Sudan where political might flows up from mobilised ethnic enclaves, politics is ethnopolitics, and the ethnic tension is politically driven by the “King of the Hill” logic of a crude state formation.

This year I witnessed a Shilluk ethnic defense militia march new graduates to war with songs against the Dinka, after the government annexed traditional land to a neighboring Dinka state. I landed in Wau, a historically diverse provincial town, to emptied streets patrolled by Dinka soldiers after a Dinka militia avenged a Fertit rebel attack by torching a Ferit neighbourhood. At an abandoned medical research facility deep in the forest of Western Equatoria, a Zande rebel leader derided the Zande governor, simply, as “Dinka” — the height, for the rebel, of all insults.


South Sudan’s ethnopolitical war is rooted in the flaws of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which installed a non-representative and ethnically fractured party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, in charge of a future country it never won over. Many South Sudanese militias, some more representative of political constituencies than others, successfully resisted the SPLM throughout the war. But peace brokers crowned SPLM the winner.

Nyakong, 22, has been hiding in a village near Nasir, South Sudan, and surviving off cow's milk for months. The village is unsafe, but the floodwaters are too high to bring her three young children to Leitchuor refugee camp in Ethiopia.
C. Tijerina/UNHCR
The victims of a state unraveling

The SPLM’s lack of monopolised or legitimised rule rendered South Sudan a failed state before birth. This is the origin of South Sudan’s derided “gun class”: without a state, politics is war. Rather than address this structural timebomb head-on, the 2005 CPA peace accord perversely incentivised SPLM leaders to latch hold of external sovereignty instead of legitimising its rule. Patchwork patronage coupled with crude collective punishment held the state together, but reinforced South Sudan’s ethnopolitical lines.

This fractured state did not withstand its first power dispute. Riek Machar, South Sudan’s vice president, a Nuer, challenged President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, for SPLM leadership, and Kiir sacked him.

Riek’s “antics”, Justice Ambrose Riny Thiik, who leads an influential Dinka nationalist lobby, told me, “sent waves through the Jieng (Dinka) community”. Anyone who wants to lead South Sudan “must be someone that can win [the] support of our community”, South Sudan’s largest, he maintained. “So we joined together, all the Jieng communities of Bahr el Ghazal and Greater Upper Nile.”

A Dinka paramilitary force secretly arrived in Juba, and its sudden ethnic cleansing campaign forced the ethnic Nuer out of South Sudan’s political space and into armed rebellion and exile. South Sudanese got the message: In South Sudan, ethnicity trumps citizenship. If so, one could barely construct an entity more ripe for mass atrocities than South Sudan’s weak ethnocratic rule over militarily fractured zones of ethnopolitical control.

The Nuer mobilised in vengeance, raiding towns and slaughtering Dinka in retaliation. Kiir relied increasingly on Dinka nationalism to wage the war and mobilise recruits. Political patronage dried up. Kiir’s political base narrowed further.

Celebrating independence in 2011
UN Photo/Paul Banks
Celebrating independence, at war two and a half years later

Where now?

The war widened with the August 2015 peace deal, which granted Machar an official opposition army. National recruitment into Machar’s force surged in new strongholds, a perverted but predictable effect of the accord’s provisions. Unaligned militias, like the Arrow Boys in Western Equatoria, loosely joined Machar’s now-official opposition, and mobilisation efforts in Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal picked up.

A similar descent into war repeated itself across the country: rebel mobilisation sparks government hostility. Dinka security officers detain young men; some disappear. Civilians flee the garrison towns to the countryside. Broad retaliation follows rebel raids; more Dinka reinforcements arrive, reinforcing a sense of ethnocratic occupation. Isolated garrison towns suddenly float in seas of hostility. The government, increasingly, resorts to draining the sea.

This sea is now lapping up to the shores of Juba, which is within Equatoria. South Sudan is not Sudan or Syria; no rump state exists. The war is increasingly existential. If the history of mass atrocities should tell us anything: beware the desperate, not just the strong. Thus far, in the brutal logic of South Sudan’s war, all sides become weaker and weaker, more and more vulnerable.

South Sudan’s ethnopolitical crisis requires an ethnopolitical solution. The solution to the winner-take-all struggle is not a new winner-take-all election between armed parties. Nor will South Sudanese give up their arms until the political crisis is resolved. This only appears a chicken-or-egg predicament if one assumes South Sudan must be built top-down in a repeat of failed statebuilding models. South Sudanese voted for liberation. Instead, they are stuck in the violent spiral of a state collapse into bloody ethnopolitics waged over a centre created by peace brokers and statebuilders. Many flee. Others won’t, or can’t. The world will watch.

When Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk first sought shelter with the UN in Malakal, violence raged between the ethnic groups inside the camp. The UN head called a meeting and John Chuol, a community police volunteer, stood to speak. “I told her to divide us up, so we’d stop fighting. She did. And it worked,” he told me. Tensions calmed, allowing Chuol to start a youth league bringing the groups back together as South Sudanese.

Chuol invited me to the youth meeting. Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk mingled. Days later, government forces torched the camp, including Chuol’s home, while evacuating the Dinka inside.


Who can stop the threat of genocide in South Sudan?


KAMPALA, 14 November 2016

The alarm has been raised over the threat of genocide in South Sudan, with civilians increasingly targeted and persecuted in a scorched earth counter-insurgency campaign waged by government forces and their allies in the southern region of Equatoria.

After a visit to the southwestern town of Yei, Adama Dieng, the UN secretary-general’s special adviser on preventing genocide, warned on Friday that in the prevailing climate of violence and intolerance, there was “the potential for genocide”.

“Even on the day I visited,” he told a media briefing, “I saw families packing up the few belongings they have left and waiting on the side of the road for transport – either to Juba [the capital] or to neighbouring Uganda for refuge.”

Dieng said the gravity of the situation “merits immediate intervention – a full-scale fact-finding investigation and enhanced humanitarian support”.

Frontline Equatoria

Since former vice president Riek Machar fled Juba in July, the conflict in South Sudan has shifted from Greater Upper Nile to Equatoria, where the bulk of his SPLA-IO forces are sheltering.

Discontent has long simmered over the southern region’s perceived political marginalisation. Some groups have stuck with the government, but many others have teamed up with Machar’s SPLA-IO, resisting both the government’s undisciplined troops and their allies: armed Dinka cattle herders – tribesmen of President Salva Kiir – who are encroaching on their land.

South Sudanese refugee boys holding chickens on arrival in Uganda
Samuel Okiror/IRIN
South Sudanese refugee arriving in Uganda

The government response to dissent has historically been brutal. It is now fuelling not only an outpouring of refugees from the region, but also increasing local hostility towards the government and the Dinka – the largest ethnic group in the country who Kiir’s forces are seen as representing.

“The government appears to be conducting a brutal counter-insurgency campaign in greater Equatoria, including reports of the systematic targeting of civilians, gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and widespread sexual violence,” said Kate Almquist Knopf, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, at the National Defense University, Washington.

“In response, Equatorian self-defense forces and armed groups have retaliated by attacking vehicles and targeting Dinka civilians, particularly in central Equatoria,” she told IRIN.


In the most notorious case to date, gunmen ambushed a convoy of vehicles on the Yei-Juba road in October, separated the Dinka and executed them. Some youth groups have vowed revenge, prompting an exodus of Equatorians from the Dinka heartland of Bahr el Ghazal.

“Following the retreat of Machar and his opposition forces from Juba in July, we have witnessed a spike in the number of armed clashes and abuses against civilians in the Equatoria region,” noted Jonathan Pedneault, Human Rights Watch researcher for South Sudan.

Responding to the guerrilla tactics ,“the government has prosecuted very abusive counter-insurgency tactics in those areas,” Pedneault added. “Government forces have arbitrarily arrested, detained and beaten or tortured civilians for prolonged periods of time, often along ethnic lines and upon suspicions that they participate in the rebellion.”

There are many, overlapping conflicts in the greater Equatoria region. There is longstanding distrust between some Equatorians and the government, grievances that are separate from the national political dispute playing out between Kiir and Machar.

My enemy’s enemy

Some Equatorians feel sandwiched by the ethno-politicised conflict represented by Kiir and Machar, who draws much of his support from the Nuer, the country’s second largest ethnic group. They do not feel that a diverse Equatoria gets a fair shake from either side as both men battle for control of Juba, despite the fact the city falls within their territory.

But Machar’s rebel SPLA-IO remains a distinct presence, with its aligned Equatorian militias. Backing Machar in the short-term against perceived “Dinka domination” may seem a pragmatic strategy for a region that has historically been militarily weak.

SPLA soldiers
SPLA soldiers (file photo)

There is also local politics at play. Land grabbing, the appointment of an unpopular governor in Yei River State, and the depredations of a pro-government militia, the Mathiang Anyoor, have also helped accelerate the souring of relations.

As a consequence, greater Equatoria risks fracturing further. At the end of October, a new group calling itself the South Sudan Democratic Front announced a new rebellion against the Kiir government.

“We should expect more Equatorians to join the armed opposition groups that exist, and perhaps even additional ones to be declared,” Knopf said.

“The attacks and counter-attacks in greater Equatoria have sparked ethnic incitement from members of the Equatorian and Dinka communities, especially amongst the youth,” she added. “Nearly every indicator of risk of genocide is now evident in South Sudan.”

Humanitarian toll

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has warned that the conflict has spawned one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises. Since the fighting in Juba in July between Kiir’s and Machar’s forces, some 320,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring countries.

It noted that in October an average of 3,500 people crossed into Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Sudan each day.

“Genocide is a process. It does not happen overnight”

Refugees from Equatoria are increasingly using informal border crossing points, reportedly due to the presence of armed groups along main roads. Many refugees report having had to walk through the bush for days, often without food or water.

“The refugees are fleeing due to armed groups harassing civilians, killings and torture of people suspected of supporting opposing factions, burning of villages, sexual assaults of women and girls and forced recruitment of young men and boys from the Equatoria region,” said Richard Ruati, a spokesman with UNHCR in South Sudan.

Rachel Jacob at Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm, told IRIN that civilians had borne the brunt of the violence, “either directly by fighting, or in reprisals by government forces seeking to root out the opposition and collectively punish locals to discourage any support for rebels.

“For those remaining, the situation is exacerbated by deliberate obstruction of UN and aid agencies by armed actors, as well as the prevailing insecurity along major roads in Equatoria, which have escalated violence and restricted humanitarian access to civilians.”

Equatoria is the country’s traditional food basket, responsible for more than half of net cereal production. A fall in output as a result of the violence is affecting an already precarious nationwide food security situation in which 31 percent of South Sudanese, approximately 3.7 million people, are facing severe food shortages.

According to Dieng, “genocide is a process. It does not happen overnight. And because it is a process and one that takes time to prepare, it can be prevented.”

How that is to be achieved right now, is not clear. For many in Equatoria, the alternative is simply to flee their country.


TOP PHOTO: South Sudan refugees arriving in northern Uganda. Credit: Sam Okiror

South Sudan – new threats for those in Malakal camps


Girl walks through the ruins of Malakal PoC destroyed in fighting

A new humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Malakal, South Sudan, just days after an attack by government soldiers on a camp sheltering displaced people – the challenge of caring for tens of thousands of survivors.

Around 18 people died in the violence that began on Wednesday night following growing ethnic tensions between Dinka and Shilluk communities in the camp.Government soldiers broke into the UN-administered Protection of Civilians (PoC) facility and were involved in the fighting that intensified on Thursday, sending people fleeing the wild gun battles and a fire that destroyed half the camp.

Some 15,000 people, mostly Nuer and Shilluk, have taken shelter in a small, narrow strip of land near the UN Mission in South Sudan peacekeeping base, 500 meters from the PoC. Around 5,000 mainly Dinka have fled into nearby Malakal town and the protection of the largely Dinka army. Around 25,000 people are still living in parts of the PoC that escaped destruction.

It has created an alarming humanitarian situation that asks aid workers to do the near impossible — provide immediate services for 20,000 people suddenly displaced from their original site of refuge, and to plan the rebuilding of the camp.

“There is a general sense of insecurity so people have moved outside of the Protection of Civilians site,” said John McCue, head of operations for the International Organization for Migration in the capital, Juba.

“It’s completely untenable, it’s too small, it’s too crowded… there is nothing that can be done, the priority needs to be on UNMISS showing the population that they are able to provide security within the PoC. It’s the only solution. Otherwise we are looking at a major health risk.”

Some people have returned to the camp – even the sections that were torched – regarding it as a better option than the overcrowded, squalid conditions outside the UNMISS base.

“That place was not good,” said one man, who gave his name only as Hassan, indicating where thousands of displaced are building temporary shelters.

“No food, no water,” said his colleague, Emmanuel. “All of the food was here, but the violence (destroyed it)”.

Malakal town, where mainly Dinka fled to, is heavily militarised. Almost all men wear uniforms, weapons slung on their back, pacing the streets of South Sudan’s second largest city, which has been repeatedly fought over by government and rebel forces since 2013.

Here, there appear to be more services for the displaced — the Nile river is nearby to provide water and sanitation, and it is less crowded. The displaced in town are digging in for the long haul.

Angelina, who used to live in the PoC but fled to Malakal on Thursday, said many people are carrying their belongings from the camp to town “until the government tells us where to go”.

UNMISS blamed

Among the Nuer and Shilluk who have taken refuge near the UN base, there is a sense of dismay at the failure of the peacekeepers to protect them. Many say they will return to the PoC only if UNMISS can guarantee their protection.

“I saw yesterday the [UN] soldiers run away. What happens next time, I don’t know,” said Emmanuel, who like Hassan had returned to the PoC on Friday. “I saw many people die. I don’t know what happened with UNMISS.”

An UNMISS statement said its peacekeepers had exchanged fire with men “allegedly donning SPLA [army] uniforms” shooting into the base.

The 15,000 displaced outside the peacekeepers’ base have thrown up makeshift tents just centimetres apart – a clear fire risk as they are forced to use open fires to cook food and heat what water is available.

Rebuilding the PoC will take time. Two medical clinics inside the camp were destroyed — either victims of the spreading fires or the looting that came after.

It appeared that at least some of the fire in the PoC was caused by deliberate acts of arson. Sections where one ethnic group lived are a pile of ashes, yet a few feet away housing of another group was untouched by the flames.

South Sudan collapsed into civil war in 2013 when fighting broke out between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar. The conflict quickly took on ethnic overtones.

The UN warned last week that as a result of the war, 2.8 million people – nearly 25 percent of the population – are in urgent need of food assistance, and at least 40,000 people are “on the brink of catastrophe”.

See: Extreme hunger in South Sudan

UN says attack on its Bor camp like a war crime

South Sudan conflict: UN outrage at deadly Bor attack

The UN has expressed outrage at a deadly attack on one of its bases in South Sudan, saying it could “constitute a war crime”.

Thursday’s attack by armed youths on the base in Bor left at least 58 dead, including children.

Thousands of civilians are sheltering from ethnic violence there.

The UN said its peacekeepers returned fire as a mob of some 300 people forced their way into the base in an “unprovoked attack”.

Thousands of people have been killed in South Sudan since fighting began in December between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar.

More than one million people have fled their homes in the conflict, some to neighbouring countries.

‘Lethal force’
The UN said: “The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms these acts and underscored that attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers may constitute a war crime.”

We will use force if at all necessary to protect people whose sole purpose for being inside our base is to stay alive”

Toby Lanzer, UN

It added: “The members of the Security Council called on the government of South Sudan to immediately take steps to ensure the safety of all civilians and UNMISS Protection of Civilian sites in South Sudan, to swiftly investigate these incidents, and to bring the perpetrators of these egregious acts to justice.”

Some 100 people were also wounded in the attack and the death toll may rise, the UN said.

The senior UN official in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, praised the actions of the peacekeepers from India, Nepal and South Korea.

He told the BBC: “It is the bravery of the peacekeepers that managed to repel the attack. Unfortunately we have had significant loss of life.”

Almost 5,000 civilians are sheltering at the base in Bor.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 after a long and bloody conflict to become the world’s newest state.

South Korean peacekeepers were among those who acted to protect the base