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Turmoil in south Sudan’s wild lands

September 21, 2009










South Sudan’s Jonglei State contains one of Africa’s largest remaining intact wildernesses. From the air the area’s sheer vastness, the green plains broken only by bending rivers and huge swamps, is intimidating.

Its human landscape is one of turmoil, of tribal violence, slavery and in the last half
century, two long north-south civil wars. The last one ended in 2005 with a deal between Khartoum and the main southern rebel group.

It should now be at peace. But hundreds of people — the United Nations says more than 1,000 — have died here this year in a resurgence of inter-ethnic violence of an intensity not seen since the end of the war.

There was plenty then: many of the 2 million deaths in the north-south war were south-on-south as Khartoum-backed tribal militias battled the main southern rebel group that itself spilt as a result of bloody ethnically coloured power struggles.

Full of guns this, expatriates nervously joke, is the wildest of the wild, wild south.

Ayen Deu Deng fled her village of Wernyol where 38 people were shot dead last month.

“There is no peace” she said. She’s cradling a baby born soon before the attacks. Most parents are only able to run with one child when the bullets start pumping in. She lost two other children, two boys.

Deng doesn’t have much to say about the wider politics of the situation — south Sudan’s semi-autonomous government has blamed Khartoum for re-starting militias — she says all she knows is that the attackers were Lou Nuer.

Wernyol is a Dinka Bor village. The war saw large-scale killings and counter-attacks by both sub-tribes — part of the south’s Dinka and Nuer tribes — when the southern rebel movement cleaved in 1991.

Riek Machar (a Nuer), who split from the army of John Garang (a Dinka Bor) is now the Vice President of the southern government, headed by Garang’s ally Salva Kiir (Garang died in 2005).

The acceptance of Machar back into the fold was meant to symbolise the feud’s end. The whole southern government, a balanced mix from the main tribes from the south’s 50-plus ethnicities, is supposedly roughly representative.

But men and women on the ground, many former refugees from wartime attacks who risk their lives trying to rebuild them back in the south, know that the wounds have not healed.

The 2005 peace deal promised national reconciliation as well as south-south dialogue and healing. Very little of this has happened.

The south is already absorbed in difficult relations with the north, food and cash shortages and massive under-development. Ethnic issues are difficult and dark waters and no one wants to rock the boat too roughly.

In the meantime many like Deng are afraid of more attacks. And this unresolved fear and anger could be easy for politicians of every kind to use ahead of Sudan’s April national elections.


Skye Wheeler becomes a cultured reporter in the thorniest issues of South Sudan and on this blog, its content bases on solid facts; an execellent job.


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