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327 Ler chief, interview, July 26, 1999.
328 “Aid Workers Hiding in Bush after Sending SOS,” AFP, Nairobi, July 16, 1998; WFP, “Sudan Daily Bulletin No. 10, July 18-20, 1998,” Rome, July 20, 1998.
329 “Pro-government Factions Reach Ceasefire in Southern Sudan,” AFP, Khartoum, July 21, 1998.
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But Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s government-backed forces attacked Ler yet again in August, for the third time that year, despite the ceasefire. People reported abductions and random killings of livestock. “The Matiep troops had finished off all the goats in the area in three months,” one young man complained.
“It began with the bulls. They ate from them until the evacuation and took some as loot. They cut down crops for passage as they crossed, leaving.” The older boys, taken previously for heavy portering, had gone into hiding. Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s troops therefore pursued others to serve as porters—boys as young as nine or ten, who had stayed behind because they thought they were safe.330 Conditions in the toic, where the civilians hid, were miserable during the wet season; it rained heavily and malaria-carrying mosquitoes thrived. The displaced often had to sleep on woven grass mats floating on the water. There was not enough food for everyone. One woman, who went into hiding in the toic that year with twenty family members, came out with fifteen: five died in the toic, three adults and two children.331 The civilians did not rebuild houses in Ler because they feared Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s forces would burn them again. Instead, they settled for less rain-resistant coverings under the trees.
On October 12, 1998, the SSDF attacked Paulino Matiep’s forces in Nhialdiu, “killing a good number [before they] fled across the river to a place six hours from Nhialdiu.” Then Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep declared peace, which lasted from October 12, 1998 until May 1999.332 Relief Agencies Note Forced Displacement and Devastation in Western Upper Nile, 1998 Witness accounts of the forced displacements were borne out by the reports of relief agencies. The WFP reported that the fighting around Nhialdiu, which it said lasted from June 1997 to November 1998, 330 RASS official, Human Rights Watch interview, Nyal, Western Upper Nile/Unity, August 18, 1999.
331 Elizabeth N., interview, Nyal, August 18-20, 1999. In 1998, the civilians generally did not flee too far from their homes. The women and children ran four hours “very deep in the toic, where we could not be seen,” but there was not enough wild food there.
They would sneak back to the village to see if it was safe to fetch clothes or food, or to gather wild food.
332 William Magany, interview, August 18, 1999.
displaced around 70 percent of the Nhialdiu community, who went to Bentiu and Mankien. After the hostilities diminished, some returned to Nhialdiu, joined there by displaced persons from other areas.333 U.N. and private relief agencies also issued appeals and press releases to bring attention to the acute situation in the oilfield areas of Western Upper Nile/Unity State. On May 1, 1998, Oxfam announced that it was setting up an emergency program in that state “to respond to 25,000 displaced people through insecurity.”334 On May 5, 1998, CARE, which worked in the government garrison towns of Bentiu and Mayom, reported that “20,000 Sudanese have fled the war-wracked towns of Unity State in Southern Sudan.” According to CARE, Unity State had “been the center of fighting between rival factions of the South Sudan Independence Movement [Riek Machar forces],” while “[g]overnment-controlled Bentiu, Mayoum and Rubkona are mostly inaccessible to aid workers providing relief in the South.”335 On May 13, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) announced that it was sending emergency aid to assist famine victims in Sudan, while the government would “continue to put pressure on all parties to achieve a negotiated settlement.”336 On July 7, 1998, MSF-Holland declared in a press release that insecurity in Western Upper Nile/Unity State was seriously hampering the delivery of urgently needed food assistance. The fighting had forced MSF, the WFP, and other humanitarian agencies to evacuate the area, and looting of compounds by 333 WFP, “Sudan Bulletin No. 74: February 6-13, 1999,” Rome, February 25, 1999. One Nuer military man said that the Leek Nuer, who lived in the Nhialdiu area, did not want to leave their area because they were afraid their property—huts, grain, and cattle— would be looted in their absence. Often they switched sides and joined whoever was in control of the area, be it Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep or SSDF Cmdr. Tito Biel. Thomas Duoth, interview, July 22, 1999. Many Leek Nuer had already been displaced from their land north of Bentiu.
334 Oxfam, “Briefing Document on the Emergency in the South of Sudan,” May 1, 1998.
335 CARE, “CARE Responds to the Crisis in South Sudan with Emergency Aid,” Atlanta, May 5, 1998.
336 Canadian International Development Agency press release, “Canada Sends Emergency Aid to Sudan,” Ottawa, May 13, 1998.
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government soldiers had forced the shutdown of key programs, including the MSF hospital in Ler,337 bringing MSF’s kala azar, tuberculosis, and mobile clinics there to a halt.338 Subsequently, the government of Sudan reported increased cases of kala azar, particularly in the endemic areas of government-held Mayom and Pariang.339 On July 10, 1998, the WFP made a special appeal to the “international community to take urgent measures and do everything it can to persuade all the combatants to put down their weapons and end this senseless suffering” in Western Upper Nile/Unity State. It said the fighting was preventing delivery of badly-needed food to thousands of people and in many areas it was so constant that WFP could not even gain access to assess how many people might be in need of food.340 Fighting did not subside until a few months later.
The OLS reported in late July 1998 that Western Upper Nile/Unity State “experienced pre-famine conditions, in almost all cases as a result of military activity.”341 In Western Upper Nile/Unity State, the OLS warned, “where intra-factional fighting caused constant displacement, global malnutrition rates reached as high as 40 percent at mid-year.”342 In December 1998, the WFP delivered the first food in more than four months to tens of thousands of
hungry Sudanese in Ler and Mankien. A WFP representative observed:
337 U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Sudan, JanuaryDecember 1999, New York, January 25, 1999.
338 MSF-Holland press release, “Insecurity Hinders Provision of Humanitarian Assistance in Southern Sudan,” Nairobi, July 7, 1998.
339 WFP, “Sudan Bulletin No. 73: February 1-6, 1999,” Rome, February 7, 1999.
340 WFP press release, “WFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini Calls on International Community to Help End Fighting in Southern Sudan,” New York, July 10, 1998. Other WFP press releases included: “WFP Staff Evacuated Safely Out of South Sudan After Out-running Militia Attack,” Nairobi, July 18, 1998; “WFP Issues Urgent Appeal for Funds to Expand Emergency Food Aid to Needy Sudanese,” Rome, July 27, 1998.
341 U.N. OLS, “An OLS Position Paper: The Humanitarian Emergency in Sudan,” Nairobi, July 31, 1998.
342 OCHA, Consolidated Appeal, 1999.
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Over the past months thousands of people have fled without food or belongings.
They’ve been forced to hide for days at a time in the surrounding swamps and outlying villages, living in constant fear and surviving on just water lilies [a wild food] and fish.
Their own villages have been burned down and their grain stores have been looted.343 The WFP said that Ler, once a hub for food and health services, “is now a ghost town.” Although some residents were returning, they feared future attacks. The WFP confirmed that “militia factions have raided Ler three times since June , looting and burning homes and destroying schools, a hospital and clinic. Crops have been trampled, burned and eaten by the raiders. Renegade forces have also stolen and slaughtered thousands of cattle.” The WFP estimated that the fighting forces had stolen a total of 24,000 cattle, leaving families with no assets to trade or slaughter. The salvaged grain had been shared with others and was almost entirely depleted.344 The initial U.N. appeal for emergency funding for Sudan in 1998 anticipated that in Western Upper Nile/Unity State it would need to provide relief food for “27,290 displaced and war-affected beneficiaries during the hunger gap period from April to July.”345 Following the destruction and displacement caused by government and Paulino Matiep’s militia’s attacks on villages of the Leek, Jagei, and Dok Nuer, the appeal was revised upward and called for relief food to 151,850 beneficiaries in Western Upper Nile/Unity State, 346 more than five times the number of beneficiaries initially projected.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) classified Western Upper Nile/Unity State as one of two “areas of acute emergency” in all of Sudan, the worst classification 343 WFP, “WFP Delivers First Food in Months to Tens of Thousands of Sudanese Cut Off by War in Southern Sudan,” Nairobi, December 8, 1998, quoting David Fletcher, acting WFP Representative and Deputy Coordinator, OLS.
345 OCHA, Consolidated Appeal, 1998.
346 WFP, “Emergency Report No. 26 of 1998: Sudan,” Rome, June 26, 1998.
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possible.347 The other area was Bahr El Ghazal, where famine struck almost a million people that year.348 And it was the area of Unity/Upper Nile/Jonglei that topped the list for more OLS personnel evacuated due to fighting than anywhere else in 1998. As a result, by the end of 1998, humanitarian coverage in this region was the lowest of all major OLS areas.349 This time of “acute emergency” was the very time Talisman was reviewing the possibility of becoming lead partner in GNPOC, which concession included Mayom, Bentiu, Rubkona, and Mankien, all affected by the displacement, disruption, and hunger caused by the fighting—funded on both sides by the government.
347 OCHA, Consolidated Appeal, 1999.
348 The Bahr El Ghazal famine had one natural cause – a two-year drought caused by El Niño – and several human ones.
Muraheleen and government-backed militias pauperized the northern Bahr El Ghazal Dinka by raiding, burning fields and homes, and looting. The government’s years of obstruction of relief efforts along with the SPLA’s looting of the few relief goods available and “taxation” of the citizens led to a full-blown disaster. By late 1997 the U.N. projected that approximately 250,000 people in Western Upper Nile/Unity State would be at risk for starvation in 1998. Human Rights Watch, Famine in Sudan, pp. 2-3.
349 OCHA, Consolidated Appeal, 1999.
Overview The resolve of the Sudanese government against sharing power with southerners was hardened by the novel civilian peace and reconciliation conference held in Wunlit, Bahr El Ghazal, under the auspices of the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC) in February-March 1999. 350 At Wunlit, the Nuer of the West Bank of the Nile agreed with their West Bank Dinka cousins to make peace and end that part of the south-south conflict, underway since the SPLA split in 1991.
Coincidentally, the Nuer of the West Bank attending the Wunlit conference were the Nuer from Blocks 1 and 2 (Leek ) and Blocks 5A (Jagei, Jikany, Dok) and 5B (Dok and Nyuong). The only West Bank Nuer who did not participate in the conference were the Bul Nuer, with minor exceptions.
Although the fighting forces prevailing in the territory of these Nuer and Dinka (SPLA and SSDF) did not end their military and political rivalry right away, the border war between the West Bank Nuer and Dinka ended at Wunlit, at civilian initiative. The civilians agreed to no more cattle raids, destruction of villages, abductions of women and children, or calling in their armed brethren to defend (and escalate) disputes. They covenanted that they would make sure that their people kept to the bargain, through pressure from the grassroots leaders, chiefs, and Christian and traditional spiritual leaders.
This was the Sudanese government’s worst nightmare: its political strategy, which had been so successful in gaining access to the southern oilfields, was to divide southerners from each other and displace them from the oilfields for the benefit of northern Sudanese and foreign oil developers. But though the NuerThe NSCC was created by the Sudan Council of Churches based in Khartoum, to serve as a branch office for the many Sudanese Christian congregations being cut off from their headquarters in Khartoum by the war. The NSCC, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, comprises Sudanese Protestant and Catholic churches part or all of whose congregations and activities are located in rebel-held areas of southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains. The SCC and NSCC consider that they are one council, periodically meet together, and issue joint statements across the political-military divide.
Dinka break was partially mended, there remained many other targets for “divide and displace” strategies, chief among them the Nuer themselves.
The West Bank Nuer/Dinka People-to-People Peace and Reconciliation Conference, February-March 1999 Purpose of the Wunlit Conference The successful Nuer-Dinka West Bank (of the Nile) peace and reconciliation conference held in Wunlit, Bahr El Ghazal, on February 27-March 8, 1999, manifested an idea whose time had come. The decision to hold it was unrelated to the development of the oilfields; indeed, it was held months before the completion of the pipeline and export of oil. Political and military geography in this case overlapped with petroleum geology: the Sudanese government was focused on stirring up ethnic divisions, especially where there was oil to be had. The Nuer from the Western Upper Nile oilfields had been stirred up against their Dinka neighbors, and peace between them eventually spilled back to the oilfields.