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Amid Sporadic Violence in South Sudan, a Common Link?

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Amid Sporadic Violence in South Sudan, a Common Link?

Posted by Laura Heaton and Maggie Fick on September 1, 2009

The U.N. has confirmed another attack in southern Sudan’s violence-wracked and remote Jonglei state, leaving 46 people dead and 15 in critical condition. The weekend attack forced an estimated 24,000 people to flee, according to a local official who spoke to the Associated Press.

The U.N. estimates that more than 2000 people have died and that 250,000 more have been displaced by the communal violence in southern Sudan this year. This information in itself is alarming. But what is particularly significant about the recent clashes in Jonglei state and throughout the South in the past several months is one key trend that is present in nearly every case: reports from southern Sudanese officials and from the U.N. that the militias responsible for the violence are reportedly carrying new machine guns and, in the case of the weekend attack, wearing new uniforms. While there isn’t a direct correlation to draw yet, this emerging trend cannot be ignored.

Inter-communal rivalries often lead to cattle raiding in the dry season in southern Sudan, but as Enough as consistently argued, the violence this year is quite different from “traditional cattle raids” in the region and arguably much more deadly now that the militias are armed with machine guns and other new equipment. The county commissioner of Twic East county in Jonglei state, where the violence erupted over the weekend, told the U.N.-funded Miraya radio:

The civilians in the area have been shocked by recent attacks, which claimed dozens of lives and injured scores in the country.

The Sudanese government in Khartoum has a history of arming proxy forces to carry out its dirty work, and with national elections and the South’s self-determination referendum fast approaching, it is not remotely out of the question that the Khartoum regime might choose to arm southern groups in an effort to make it appear that the fledgling government of southern Sudan isn’t capable of securing its territory and protecting its citzens. Recent comments from an advisor to President Bashir, as quoted by the Chinese state-owned Xinhua news agency, seem to support this theory. Asked about allegations by the SPLM (the southern Sudanese army) that the North is arming southern militias, the presidential advisor said:

The SPLM is trying to divert attention from its failure in bringing security to the south and preventing security spoilage there. The SPLM is running in the south and it has the responsibility to maintain security there. [Emphasis ours.]

An attack earlier last month in Unity state had similar characteristics, with news reports noting that an estimated 300-350 gunmen were armed with automatic weapons and heavy machine guns. Shortly after the attack, a local official noted, "We have no details of casualties as yet because the fighting is still continuing. But the fighting is serious, so dead are expected."