After last week’s round of Sudan-related hearings on Capitol Hill, which highlighted the life or death implications of the Obama administration’s ongoing Sudan policy review, this week started with tragic news from southern Sudan.
At least 185 people were reportedly killed in inter-ethnic violence Sunday in Jonglei’s Akobo County, a remote, tense, and heavily armed area in the South. As we have noted before, the upsurge in communal violence in southern Sudan in 2009 has been characterized by the indiscriminate killing of women and children, which is a disturbing shift from the historical practices of cattle-raiding and other traditional conflicts related to land. The attacks in Jonglei were consistent with this worrisome new trend, given that the majority of the victims were women and children, along with an estimated 11 soldiers from the southern army, the SPLA.
The Akobo county commissioner Goi Jooyul Yol told BBC,“The attack was well coordinated and planned, and there was a lot of reconnaissance before the attack because they knew exactly who they were targeting.” In this incident, fighters from the Murle ethnic group attacked members of the Lou Nuer group who were fishing south of the town of Akobo. In early June, an armed Lou Nuer militia attacked a World Food Program convoy carrying U.N. food aid, reportedly killing at least 40 of the 150 SPLA soldiers acting as escorts. The latest attack comes in the midst of a severe food shortage which is afflicting much of the South this rainy season. The Akobo county commissioner said that the people killed were on a fishing expedition because food supplies were running low in Akobo county after the June attack on the World Food Program barges prevented some desperately needed aid from reaching the remote areas of Jonglei and Upper Nile states.
Meanwhile, a statement from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underlined the responsibilities of both the U.N. Mission in Sudan, or UNMIS, and the Government of Southern Sudan, or GoSS, to extend assistance to the people affected by this violence and to take the necessary measures to protect civilians across southern Sudan.
Southern Sudan is a region on the brink, and the challenges facing this semi-autonomous region in the next 18 months – before the people of the South will vote in a self-determination referendum – are complex and daunting. To get a better sense of these challenges, watch this 10-minute documentary from Refugees International, which was filmed and directed by Refugees International Board Member Matt Dillon and developed following a RI assessment mission to southern Sudan in February 2009. It documents the struggles of approximately 2 million South Sudanese who returned home following the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended more than two decades of civil war between Sudan’s North and South: