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SUDAN: Fighting escalating in Shilluk Kingdom

NAIROBI, 19 March 2004 (IRIN) - Clashes involving a number of government-backed militias and government forces in the Shilluk Kingdom region of southern Sudan are resulting in an increasing number of deaths and displacements.

On 11 March, militias and government forces from Malakal attacked villages west of Awajwok including Alaki, the village of the Shilluk king, according to the Fashoda Relief and Rehabilitation Association (FRRA). The FRRA is the humanitarian wing of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-United (SPLM/U) which realigned with the SPLM/Army (SPLM/A) in October 2003.

In Alaki, houses were set on fire and cattle driven away by attacking forces, Gabriel Otor Marko, the FRRA executive director, said on Thursday. The militias were reinforced by government forces in gunboats on the River Nile, who then attacked Nyilwak, where they dispersed a large civilian population. "An unknown number of people were killed or wounded, houses set on fire and properties looted," he said. On 10 March militias had also attacked the villages of Adodo, displacing its civilians.

Since the SPLM-U, led by Lam Akol - who split from the SPLM/A in 1991 - realigned with the SPLM/A last October, tensions and violence in the region have been flaring up. A regional analyst told IRIN that some of Akol's Shilluk forces had rejected the merger and were involved in the recent violence, but that it was unclear how many.

Other government-backed militia leaders operating in the region include Gabriel Tang Ginye from Fangak, Simon Gatwic Gwal from Waat, Reth Gai Tual from Nasir, Paulino Matib from Bentiu, and Thomas Mabor Dhol, the FRRA stated. Government soldiers are based nearby in Malakal, Fashoda and Tonga.

The reasons for the in-fighting and Shilluk forces attacking their own people remain unclear. Personal enrichment was a key factor, an analyst told IRIN, as well as Khartoum's keenness to control areas along the White Nile.

Since the beginning of March, there has been an increasing number of incidences in the region. Between 5 and 7 March civilians in Dinyo and Nyijwado were reportedly attacked by militias and government forces. Many of them had already been displaced to the area in January from Nyibanyo in similar attacks. About 3,000 fled to Nyilwak, while others were killed and wounded, the FRRA reported.

On 7 March Obay and Pakang were also reportedly attacked by army and militias, killing nine civilians and wounding nine others. A dispensary and school were looted, a headmaster killed, cattle driven away and civilian houses set on fire. The populations of the two villages reportedly fled.

On 4 March government and militias abducted eight women from Dinyo, taking them to New Fangak, where they are still being held; some of them were lactating and had left behind their babies.

The numbers are impossible to verify independently.

Humanitarian agencies working in the region have had to evacuate their staff several times since the SPLM-United split in October 2003. According to the FRRA, about 50 percent of the population in an area known as Zone 1 has been destabilised as a result.

"It is very unfortunate that this man-made human disaster occurs while the agreement on the cessation of hostilities between the SPLM/A and government is still in force and when the two parties are on the threshold of a peace agreement, making it very difficult for the communities to contemplate the advent of a lasting peace," said the statement.

Meanwhile, peace talks between the government and the SPLM/A are continuing in neighbouring Kenya, but have reached deadlock over the status of three disputed regions in the centre of Sudan - the Nuba mountains, southern Blue Nile and, in particular, oil-rich Abyei.

A cessation of hostilities agreement has been in place between the government and the SPLM/A since October 2002.

Theme (s): Conflict, Governance, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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