In the first of a two-part field dispatch series, Sudan researcher Mayank Bubna reported from the Unity State on some of the flashpoints in “arguably one of the most strategic areas of South Sudan.” Part 1 describes recent security incidents perpetrated by armed groups in the border region between the North’s Southern Kordofan state and the South’s Unity state.
One particularly egregious situation involved a group of returnees traveling to southern Sudan who were taken hostage for six days by a Misseriya militia in Southern Kordofan. Incidents of rape were reported, and the situation halted talks between the two states’ governors over Misseriya cattle compensation and border security to break down.
As Mayank points out, the upcoming referendum, such as demarcation of the border and grazing arrangements, have accentuated existing tensions and sensitive, unresolved issues in the area:
Road blocks, cattle rustling, and organized killings of civilians are not new tactics employed by armed groups in the region. At the beginning of the dry season every year, locals expect an increase in cattle raids, intertribal conflict, and scuffles over access to grazing and water sources. Ordinarily, before the Misseriya migrate South, they sit with local authorities to negotiate grazing rights, and then bring their cattle down for a few months before returning North around mid-year. Given the referendum, however, incidents of violence this year have taken on a new significance and are reinforcing mistrust between the North and South.
In addition, the recent security incidents have fed the rumor mill, creating a situation where individuals and groups have threatened to take matters into their own hands, and where local officials are able to spread information to suit their own aims. Ultimately, the tensions in Unity “threaten to quickly grow from local disagreements into national level predicaments unless more sustainable solutions can be found,” Mayank wrote.
Click here to read the full dispatch, and check back for Part 2.
UPDATE: Part 2 is now posted here.
Photo: Cattle herders in Unity state (IRIN)