SUDAN-SOUTH SUDAN: Pressgangs "still operating in Khartoum"
South Sudan rebel groups are said to be forcefully recruiting southerners in Khartoum to bolster their ranks (file photo)
JUBA-KHARTOUM, 8 February 2012 (IRIN) - Rebel groups fighting South Sudan’s government have bolstered their ranks through the forced recruitment of southerners living in Khartoum, according to a senior official in Juba, a self-styled rebel leader, and a man who escaped a pressgang in Sudan’s capital.
Although the alleged forced recruitment appears to have died down since a reported spate of abductions in late December, South Sudan’s information minister and government spokesman Barnaba Marial Benjamin said it was still taking place sporadically.
It happens “from time to time, it is random; they don’t have specific dates when they carry it out. Even if it goes down [in frequency], doesn’t happen for two or three days, you hear again a week later the same process is being repeated over and over again,” he told IRIN.
Benjamin accused “national security authorities in the Republic of Sudan [of] encouraging the militia groups that are in Khartoum to forcefully recruit some of the [southern] students from the University of Khartoum” and send them to training camps “to be part of the militia groups” fighting the Juba government.
Although Sudan has denied any involvement, Benjamin said a government delegation travelled from Juba to Khartoum in January to call “for this type of activity to stop. But it seems that nothing is stopping... and I think that this is actually spoiling the principle of building relations between the two states."
In late December, Simon*, a 49-year-old Southerner living in Khartoum, told IRIN about his own narrow escape from recruitment.
“There were seven of us in the middle of a big market in Khartoum at around 2pm. I saw seven people coming to us. Two of them had pistols under their jackets. ‘Come with us,’ they told us. We were taken in a pick-up truck to an empty house in west Omdurman.
“There were five others prisoners. They chained our feet and left us only an empty jerry-can to use as a toilet. They told us they wanted to bring us to the South to fight against the SPLA," he said, referring to the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the regular army of South Sudan.
Simon says he owes his freedom to his employers, who paid the abductors the equivalent of about US$1,500 for his release.
It is unclear how many such abductions have taken place. One aid worker in Khartoum said in late December, “We have heard from embassies, press reports, local organizations and NGOs that about 200-300 South Sudanese people have been kidnapped in Khartoum in the last couple of months. There is no official figure, only unofficial reports.”
A man reliably introduced to IRIN as a southern rebel commander, William Goikang, said he helped to plan the abductions.
“Now we are taking students. Some follow us without quarrel and for others we have to use force... We only take men between 20 and 30,” he told IRIN in late 2011.
Goikang said the conscripts were taken to one of six training centres in South Sudan’s Unity and Jonglei states, but he denied any ransoms were demanded or that the Khartoum government had any role in the recruitments.
Sudanese Information Ministry spokesman Rabbie Abdellati Ebait told IRIN his government was “against all crimes such as abductions. If cases arise, the police are there to track down and catch the criminals. It has nothing to do with political matters."
*Not his real name