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Some civilians fled just once, and stayed away during the wet season, from June to December 1998, in the toic not far from their homes. Families split up. Some family members, particularly the elderly, children, and adolescents, remained behind; in one family in the village of Patit, five to ten-year-old children were left in hiding with their grandmother, who was too old to move. Young men fled to avoid forced recruitment. Many young women, afraid of abduction and rape by Paulino Matiep’s soldiers, ran into hiding.293 Government Army and Paulino Matiep Militia in Ler, 1998 In early 1998, the government sent its troops south into Riek Machar’s home area in Ler. Up to that time Ler town had been untouched by the war and by combat, except for one instance in 1992.294 A large brick hospital built by the British prior to independence still provided facilities for medical teams;
MSF-Holland had worked in the region since 1988.295 Everything south of the government garrison town of Bentiu, including the towns of Duar, Koch, and Ler, had been abandoned or lost by the government to rebel forces by 1986. Riek Machar had about 9,000 troops in this area of Western Upper Nile/Unity State.
An officer present in Ler town in April 1998 reported that he and Cmdr. Peter Paar Jiek of the SSDF heard at the last minute that a company of “Arab” (government) soldiers were on their way to Ler from Bentiu. On April 20, 1998, the SSDF forces intercepted the government army company (about eighty 293 William Magany, interview, August 18, 1999.
294 SPLA Cmdr. William Nyuon Bany, a Nuer, held Ler for twelve hours in 1992 against Riek Machar’s government-aligned forces.
William Nyuon was then the highest-ranking Nuer in the SPLM/A, before he defected in August 1992 to Riek Machar’s forces. He rejoined the SPLM/A in 1995 and died in operations in early 1996, fighting against SSIM Cmdr. Elijah Hon Top. Elijah Hon Top, interview.
295 MSF, Violence, Health and Access to Aid in Unity State/Western Upper Nile, Sudan, April 2002, p. 10. MSF-Holland opened a kala azar treatment center in Ler town in 1989 when it discovered that all 800 kala azar cases it was treating in Khartoum originated in Western Upper Nile/Unity State, north of Ler. Ibid.
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soldiers) three hours north of Ler, in Koch.296 The northern army contingent, asked for written orders, could produce nothing but claimed that UDSF Unity State Gov. Taban Deng had cleared the troop movement and had assigned them a seventy-person SSDF escort. They said they were going to Ler in order to receive and guard a visit by President Omar El Bashir on April 21, 1978, the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Khartoum Peace Agreement.297 Around the same time some fifteen Sudanese government troops arrived at Lundin’s “highland” location, Ryer/Thar Jath, where Lundin was readying to drill for oil. The soldiers demanded fuel to get to Ler so that they could protect President Bashir for his visit. The army contingent brought four-ton trucks and pickups with 50 mm canons. Lundin’s security consultants gave them half a drum of diesel for their trucks to be rid of them.298 When government soldiers and trucks full of weapons arrived near Ler, the SSDF commanders assigned them an exposed place outside Ler town, in Payak (this since became the location of the military garrison and airstrip); they would not let the army occupy the Ler school as requested.299 President Bashir did not arrive in Ler on April 21, 1998, nor ever. Nor did Governor Taban Deng or Riek Machar arrive on that day.300 The local SSDF commander then asked the government troops to leave Ler, but the second lieutenant in charge refused. According to one SSDF commander, “[t]hey tricked us: they said Omar Bashir wanted to visit Ler.... Our forces told them to go back to Bentiu and they refused.”301 Meanwhile, the local SSDF kept these northern troops under tight control. They would 296 Sharon E. Hutchinson, Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Madison, Wisconsin, March 22, 2000. The officer, whose name cannot be disclosed, told Hutchinson in June 1999 about the incident.
297 Ibid.; Elijah Hon Top, interview, July 26, 1999.
298 Paul Wilson, interview, May 16, 2001.
299 S.E. Hutchinson, interview, March 22, 2000.
300 Elijah Hon Top, interview, July 26, 1999; S.E. Hutchinson, interview, March 22, 2000.
301 Elijah Hon Top, interview, July 26, 1999.
not let them deploy their guns, unload weapons from the trucks, go to the market, or mix with local women. The government soldiers were outnumbered and afraid. They radioed their commanders that they had been captured.302 SSDF Cmdr. Tito Biel then arrived with two northern army officers and said that the government soldiers could stay in Ler. He said that Gov. Taban Deng had promised they would be there only for the celebration of the signing of the Khartoum Peace Agreement.303 The local SSDF set a deadline for the government soldiers to pull out: ten days from April 27, 1998. The soldiers did not meet that deadline. They never left Ler, although for the first year they did not move from Payak, where they created an airstrip and a garrison. Upon noticing that northern troops would bring additional soldiers back with them when they were allowed to go to Bentiu for rations, the local SSDF forbade this, and the number of government soldiers was reduced back to seventy.304 The army contingent, however, was strategically positioned to shelter and resupply General Paulino Matiep in his attacks on Ler that started two months later.
The SSDF regarded the location of Sudanese government troops in Ler as “a clear violation of the Khartoum Peace Agreement,”305 under which the army’s movement was to be restricted and coordinated by a joint military technical committee from Khartoum and the SSDF. But none of the military committees envisaged in the Peace Agreement had been established, according to the SSDF: “Not even a ceasefire committee was formed. Nothing was done regarding security arrangements as promised in the Peace Agreement.”306 302 S. E. Hutchinson, interview, March 22, 2000.
305 Elijah Hon Top, interview, July 26, 1999.
Ler town was attacked and captured three times in 1998 by Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s government forces, in June, July, and August, with considerable damage to the infrastructure, as well as burning and looting of homes. By July 1998, 250 houses, fifty shops, and 2,500 cattle compounds had been destroyed in Ler town, according to a government-run newspaper quoted by Associated Press.307 Paulino Matiep’s soldiers burned the roof of the large brick hospital (built by the British and run by MSF). They looted the hospital and NGO compounds. They burned the Catholic church and its grinding machine. A witness saw them put grass over an NGO car and set it on fire. The Paulino Matiep forces demolished seven permanent buildings and used fuel canisters, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and 60mm mortars to burn down the market.308 They also destroyed Riek Machar’s brick house in Ler, according to a relief coordinator.309
A chief who stayed in Ler until his house was burned said of Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s soldiers:
They are Nuers like us. I saw them burn Ler. We know all their names. They were once with us, part of the SSIM [Riek Machar forces 1994-97], before. The reason why they have occupied our land is they do not want peace between Riek [Machar] and the jallaba [northerners], or peace between the Nuer and Dinka. The only government they know is the Khartoum government.310 The civilians fled rapidly while the attackers were looting and there was not a great loss of life. Paulino Matiep’s government forces in Ler reportedly killed an old man, Amilo Chuol. A witness who saw the body, wearing a UNICEF water services uniform, said that he apparently had been shot in the back as he 307 “Civilians Displaced by Sudan Fights,” AP, Khartoum, July 27, 1998.
308 Michael Wal, interview, August 18, 1999.
309 William Magany, interview, August 18, 1999.
310 Isaac Magok, interview, August 14, 1999.
was fleeing. The bullet had pierced through his lungs and he had fallen on his face. Another observer saw the body a few days later, still face down.311 The SSDF, chronically short of ammunition, evacuated Ler, while the government soldiers stayed in their garrison. Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s forces did not remain in the area but withdrew after a few days of plundering and burning;312 they looted the nongovernmental organizations of property such as generators, some of which were reportedly given to the garrisoned government soldiers to make their Payak barracks more comfortable.313 The Paulino Matiep militia abducted women and girls, according to an Adok chief.314 Because of the fighting and destruction, and despite the need, relief agencies had to pull out of the Western Upper Nile/Unity State region on June 29, 1998.315 An Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) security officer and several NGO representatives, who visited Ler on July 6, 1998 to inspect the damage to the NGO and U.N. compounds, confirmed that all had been looted and burned.316 A relief worker observed that the Sudanese government sent Antonov aircraft carrying soldiers, weapons, and ammunition to Ler after the June fighting began. The government cargo aircraft came in two rotations with reinforcements after the SSDF fled the town.317 311 Michael Wal, interview, August 18, 1999. Others who were killed in June 1998 in Ler included local traders and one old woman who was burned inside her house. In addition, when Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s forces suddenly arrived, three boys were killed in cross fire. Martha N., Human Rights Watch interview, Nyal, Western Upper Nile, southern Sudan, August 18-20, 1999.
312 Michael Wal, interview, August 18, 1999.
313 S.E. Hutchinson, interview, March 22, 2000.
314 Gideon Bading, interview, August 20, 1999.
315 “Aid Agencies Pull Out of Sudanese Region,” AFP, Nairobi, July 7, 1998; MSF press release, “Insecurity Hinders Provision of Humanitarian Assistance in Southern Sudan,” Nairobi, July 7, 1998.
316 U.N. OLS (Southern Sector), “Emergency Update No. 12,” Nairobi, July 17, 1998. OLS is the U.N. umbrella agency coordinating the relief effort for Sudan.
317 Michael Wal, interview, August 18, 1999. Two rotations means two round-trip flights in one day.
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Lundin’s security consultants had been accustomed to driving to Ler, where they made friends with some of the NGOs. They had supplied one medical NGO in Ler with gas for its refrigerators. Later, they returned to Ler and saw that the NGO facility had been destroyed and abandoned, and the Ler hospital had been razed to the ground. Similar destruction was evident in the other larger towns, including Duar. Many smaller villages had been abandoned.318 A Sudanese relief worker estimated that fifty-nine villages outside Ler had been burned and looted; soldiers had forced women and girls to be porters, sometimes stripping them of clothing.319 With little delay, Riek Machar denounced Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s attack on SSDF forces in Ler and elsewhere,320 describing the fighting as “fierce.”321 A Paulino Matiep spokesman claimed that Maj. Gen.
Paulino Matiep had agreed to a ceasefire that Riek Machar had broken by preemptively attacking Paulino Matiep’s forces at a camp near Bentiu; the attack, he said, had been repelled.322 The spokesman denied that Paulino Matiep’s forces had burned villages or caused loss of life.323 The SSDF later claimed that it had made a point of fighting against Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep, but not against the government troops, out of a desire to maintain the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement.
Paulino Matiep himself described the fighting as a disagreement between him and Riek Machar over the military leadership of the SSDF.324 The Sudanese government sent a fact-finding mission to Western Upper Nile/Unity State in early July 1998 to investigate what it referred to as “clashes” between Maj.
Gen. Paulino Matiep’s forces and Riek Machar’s SSDF. The delegation attributed the attacks strictly to 318 Paul Wilson, interview, May 16, 2001.
319 Michael Wal, interview, August 18, 1999.
320 Alfred Taban, “Pro-government Factions Clash in Sudan,” Reuters, Khartoum, July 7, 1998.
321 “Inter-faction Fighting Reported in Southern Sudan,” AFP, Khartoum, July 7, 1998.
322 “Pro-government Factional Fighting Still Rages in South Sudan,” AFP, Khartoum, July 12, 1998.
323 “Nearly 50 Die in Sudan Clashes,” AFP, Khartoum, July 19, 1998.
324 “Faction Fighting in Southern Sudan Kills 49,” AFP, Khartoum, July 15, 1998.
southern rivalries, even though it found “vast damage was inflicted on government installations and development projects while 49 people have been killed.”325 Yet the army garrison at Ler (Payak) had acquiesced in the assault, noted by witnesses who spoke to Human Rights Watch. Although the fighting was going on near their base, the Sudanese army made no move to intervene or stop the fighting. It was the war of their ally Paulino Matiep, and they benefited from Paulino Matiep’s actions. One chief from Ler observed that the cattle stolen by Paulino Matiep’s troops were kept in the army garrison,326 and another chief reported, “When we were defeated, the government of Sudan soldiers found our cows, goats, and furniture when they were burning the houses.
They brought these goods to the base. They [the army soldiers] profited from the fighting in 1998, and they did not even fight!327 Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep again attacked Ler on July 16, after many residents had returned and the WFP had arrived to distribute food. Two WFP workers had to flee the July 16 attack, wading waist-deep through mosquito-infested swamps at night, guided by members of the local community. They were evacuated to safety by OLS on the morning of July 17.328 The Sudanese government announced on July 21, 1998, that Paulino Matiep and Riek Machar had agreed on a “cessation of hostilities” and had pledged not to fight each other.329 Some civilians who evacuated Ler on July 4 returned after July 26 when Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s forces pulled out. The wet season was well under way.
326 Isaac Magok, interview, August 14, 1999.