Contextual Developments in Sudan
In the lead up to south Sudan’s official declaration of independence on 9th July, there was a severe escalation of violence on the north/south border, especially in the disputed Abyei region, an oil-rich area which both the south and north claim as their own. The Northern Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) mounted a full scale attack in Abyei following a clash on 19th May between the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and a UN-escorted SAF convoy. SAF eventually secured control over the entire county, and continues to occupy it as of the end of May. The UN reported that only a few of the 110,000 residents of the main town remain in the area, with most civilians fleeing south into Warrap, Unity and Northern Bahr Ghazal states. As a result, both the UN and INGOs temporarily suspended their work in the region. Reports also indicate that the SAF is continuing to move southward from Abyei, securing territory down to the border that was established in 1956 by the British when it granted Sudan independence. The deteriorating security situation also led to the strengthening of a blockade along the border, exacerbating fuel and food shortages in areas where there are already threats to food security. Despite the increased intensity of the conflict, it remains localized to the border areas, and therefore does not threaten NP’s presence in the country. However, on 31st May, the north and south signed an agreement establishing a demilitarized “Common Border Zone” that will be jointly monitored by the North and South. Further negotiations are planned for early June.
In Jonglei state, 3,000 civilians remained displaced following violent tribal clashes and cattle rustling in which dozens of civilians were killed. While two militias remain active in Jonglei, fighting between SPLA and these armed groups declined in May. However, in Unity State, reports indicate that multiple attacks and cattle raids led by new militia leader Peter Gadet caused dozens of deaths throughout the month.
In the areas where NP’s Mundri field team operates, sporadic attacks between Dinka cattle keepers from Lakes State and agriculturalists from Mvolo continued, despite a fragile and nebulous ceasefire that was brokered in April by the governors of both states. The vast majority of the estimated 34,000 displaced civilians have yet to return home due to insecurity.
Nonviolent Peaceforce’s Field Work
Mvolo-Lakes State Conflict
NP’s active engagement in conflict resolution efforts in the Lakes State-Mvolo conflict yielded substantial results by the end of the month when it worked with the military to coordinate peace talks that led to a ceasefire agreement. Such efforts were necessary because the ceasefire agreement brokered by the governors in April proved ineffective due to , the lack of involvement of local authorities, who have direct influence over the youth that are involved in fighting. The peace talks facilitated by NP involved local level government officials and tribal chiefs who not only agreed on a ceasefire, but also on concrete measures to improve the current situation for civilians affected by the conflict and improve relations between the groups in conflict. Specifically, both sides agreed to re-open the main hospital and schools in the region, which have historically served residents from both Lakes State and Mvolo, but are located in Lakes State. Evidence of the success of the ceasefire agreement was already apparent the following day, when NP observed nurses returning to the hospital to resume their work. The ceasefire agreement also included provisions to allow IDPs to safely return home without the threat of further attack so that they could begin cultivation immediately (as rainy season has just started, cultivation needs to commence immediately in order to ensure food security for the coming year). Any breaches of the agreement are to be reported to the military, who both sides consider to be a neutral party. NP is continuing to provide follow up support, visiting tribal chiefs in the area to ensure that information of the ceasefire has been properly disseminated, planning for a follow-up conference to ensure buy-in from all tribal chiefs in the affected areas, preparing to provide accompaniment for returning IDPs and monitoring presence in the affected areas.
One Year Anniversary
On 13th May, NP celebrated its one year anniversary of commencing field work in Sudan. In May 2010, a small team of internationals and Sudanese peacekeepers deployed to the area introducing the concept of unarmed civilian peacekeeping as an effective method for civilian protection and violence reduction. The first year has been both challenging and rewarding for NP. The anniversary was marked by a community event where local partners, Mundri Active Youth Association (MAYA) and Lanyi Youth Development Association (LAYA) performed dramas about various ways to handle conflict. Speeches of appreciation for NP were given by many community leaders, while NP’s Sudan Country Director, Tiffany Easthom, gave a speech thanking the community for their support and acceptance.
Also in recognition of NP’s anniversary, NP carried out interviews with a variety of stakeholders from government and civil society in Greater Mundri to gauge its impact over the past year. The interviews indicated that NP was recognized as an organization that had a significant impact in regards to reducing violence and improving security for civilians throughout the region, and that there was strong desire for NP to continue – and expand – its operations in the area. For example, according to the Mundri West South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC), the government agency responsible for coordinating humanitarian intervention between the government, NGOs and civil society, “After 21 years of war, we don’t have the capacity to deal with our own conflicts. When NP came, they built the capacity of our own community, helping them solve their own problems. NP’s work is sustainable because it helps the community become the agents of peacemaking - and we have already seen that start to happen. Without NP, the community wouldn’t know their role in making that possible.” The former Mundri West County expressed similar sentiments, stating that, “NP befriended and became part of the community. As Commissioner, I had no capacity to cover all the areas of the county. NP went to different areas where there was need.”
Launch of New Field Sites
Following completion of NP’s ten-day Core Mission Preparedness Training on 8th May, NP’s new civilian peacekeepers (seven internationals from Colombia, Uganda, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and the US, as well as ten nationals from throughout southern Sudan) deployed to NP’s new field sites in Juba and Nzara to begin a new UNICEF-supported child protection and gender-based violence (GBV) project. The Juba team will work throughout Central Equatoria State to address such issues as unaccompanied displaced children, return and reintegration of former child combatants, youth militias, confidence building between state duty bearers and communities and building state capacity to respond to GBV. Nzara, a county in WES near the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) border, is plagued by attacks from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), one of the most brutal non-state armed groups in the world, and particularly notorious for abducting children to be soldiers and sex slaves. Within the first ten days of operations, the Nzara team carried out two protective accompaniments for children who were recently rescued from the LRA. The accompaniments supported the Ministry of Social Development’s efforts to ensure that the children were able to safely return to their communities and families. Additionally, the police in Nzara have already requested NP’s support in responding to two serious GBV cases.