During his trip last week to Sudan, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes expressed his concern about the recent violence in southern Sudan, saying that “the scale of conflict, scale of death, scale of destruction is really worrying.”
While the initial death tolls for the recent attacks in southern Sudan’s Jonglei state by armed Lou Nuer militia on rival Murle villages were estimated at under 200 people, hundreds more were reportedly killed in reprisal violence in April and Holmes said that it was possible thousands had been killed and that “nobody really knows” the true toll.
Holmes also touched on how these inter-clan clashes represent a host of unresolved problems in southern Sudan, from undisciplined security forces to armed civilian populations to ineffective governance. Southern Sudan is an extremely under-developed region that, after more than two decades of war, is struggling to build adequate institutions and infrastructure in the run up to national elections in 2010 and a referendum in 2011 meant to decide the region’s future, as mandated by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement:
[The recent violence] suggests there’s a real problem about how to reconcile the communities, because this fighting has not necessarily stopped…We saw people with bullet wounds which are quite recent. So there’s a real fear this fighting will restart … This area cannot afford another war.
Indeed, as tensions continue to rise (results of the recently completed census are particularly contentious) in the South in the run up to the elections, inter-clan clashes at the local level may be an unfortunate harbinger of problems to come.