Civilians Continue to Suffer at Hands of Rebels in Jonglei Print

CivilianscontinueBy John Actually

Today you see them, tomorrow they are gone. They are ruthless and no one knows why they are fighting. These are the rebel fighters of South Sudan’s Jonglei State whose activities have contributed to serious insecurity among villagers.

It all started in 2010 after some former Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA/M) generals failed to win posts during South Sudan’s hotly contested general elections. They instead rebelled against the government by taking up arms and heading for the bush. Those who rebelled against the government included General George Athor Deng and David Yau Yau of Pigi and Pibor Counties respectively.

General Deng was selected as the leader of the rebels in 2010 in his bases in Pigi County in northern Jonglei. Since then his heavily armed group of fighters has fought several wars with government forces and has also been accused of attacking civilians in Fangak, Ayod and Nyirol, during which many women and children were killed.

However, his troops were dislodged in heavy fighting that left many of his soldiers dead. He escaped to an unknown location. In March this year, unconfirmed reports indicated that he was hiding in Khartoum.

Athor’s reappearance this year in Uror, Nyirol and Ayod Counties, where he was re-arming the youth to fight their traditional enemy the Murle, as well as the SLPA, surprised many people who thought he had been vanquished. Athor had refused to respond to a government amnesty, issued on Independence day on July 9, to surrender and end the war.

In an interview during an inter-communal Peace Forum in Ayod County recently, a youth leader, Mr James Chuol described Athor’s rebellion as borne out of a selfish quest for power. In Chuol’s opinion, the Jonglei rebellion is simply a matter of political greed by a few disgruntled politicians. He claims that people like Athor rebelled against the government as a retaliatory move, and aimed at killing civilians who did not vote for them. He accused him of killing innocent people who knew nothing about politics and taking revenge against his own people who did not vote for him during the elections. “They have no ideology. They just want to cause mayhem so that they can steal from people,” he asserted.

James Chuol, who is the leader of Ayod Youth Forum, said they held a meeting in Ayod in October to persuade the youth against joining the rebel group. “I told my people that we should not join Athor Deng’s movement. We are from the independent state of South Sudan. There is a need for peaceful co-existence among the people themselves,” said Chuol.

Chuol asserted further that Ayod youth would not allow the rebel group to continue terrorizing the people. He said that although the youth were not mandated to attack the rebels, they would stop them from attacking civilians. “We are ready to protect our people and the territory. We are capable of mounting a serious fight,” said Chuol.

Chuei Leek Kachuo, aged 68, a paramount chief of Duk County, said atrocities committed by ‘criminals and law breakers’ posing as fighters had disrupted life in the county, and many people are now living in fear and cannot venture into economic activities for fear of being attacked by the rebels.

Chuei said he managed to reach two people from his area who are serving in the rebel movement and prevailed upon them to quit their activities but they turned down his request. He claims that deaths caused by the rebel’s activities were rising each day and cited a recent incident at Fangak in February this year, during which rebels launched a deadly attack on civilians, killing over 200 people, including women and children. Additionally, over 20,000 people were displaced and about 150 people wounded, during the attack. Chuei said the normal movement of people between Ayod, Uror, Nyiro and Duk has stopped due to the insecurity, which has also led to severe food shortages and disruption of learning in local schools.

The government has rolled out a plan to attempt to demobilize and disarm all rebel groups, including launching a massive sensitization campaign amongst various communities to ensure that no illegal arms remain in the hands of civilians.  However, tribal loyalties, cattle raiding, and the unending cycle of high unemployment and poverty remain some of the much touted reasons for locals to join rebel movements like Athor’s militia group.