With fewer than three months to go before the crucial vote that will decide the future of southern Sudan, tensions remain extremely high, and few of the issues which have been highlighted over the past few months by these field dispatches have been satisfactorily dealt with. However, slight progress has been made, as October saw the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission submit its suggested timetable for approval.
However, the heightened rhetoric of the past few months has shown no sign of abating as the date for registration draws nearer. Indeed, Omar al-Bashir was quoted telling the parliament in Khartoum that he “would not accept an alternative to unity”. Such remarks come during a month when the world’s attention turned towards Sudan. Visits to the country by a delegation from the UN Security Council, high-level diplomatic missions for various countries and by the actor/activist George Clooney, have served to increase the pressure on both sides to meet CPA commitments and to ensure a violence free referendum. At the end of their visit, the Security Council’s delegation declared that the referendum must be credible, timely, and accord with the terms of the CPA. The international community has made it clear that it will not accept a universal declaration of independence (UDI) made by the south, and that a popular consultation is the only acceptable route to secession. In response, President Salva Kiir announced that if the north continued to employ obstructive tactics, the south would organise its own referendum. Whilst this would amount to a de facto UDI, it would be more defensible under international law, and could be accepted by the international community.
Southern Sudan’s many political parties and some key dissenters issued a joint statement in favour of secession. This development has been received as an indication that intra-south warfare after the referendum is less likely than some think. Delegates to the Southern Sudan Political Parties’ Conference issued a joint statement calling for the referendum to be transparent and held without delay. The fact that many key political and military players attended the conference and issued a joint statement is to be taken as an indication that the south may have the strength to resist the pressure to implode in the wake of the referendum.
This announcement comes close on the heels of an amnesty offered by President Kiir to three senior army officers who led rebellions in Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity States. The rebels were pardoned by Executive Order, on the condition that they lay down their arms. Whether or not the rebels have accepted the terms of the pardon is still unclear, but there have been reports that General George Athor Deng, a former SPLA soldier who stood in the Jonglei State gubernatorial election and refused to concede defeat, has welcomed Kiir’s pardon. Whether this results in a reduction of violence in Jonglei and the other affected states remains to be seen, but the pardon has the potential to be a positive step towards peace in Southern Sudan.
Work of NP’s field team
Facilitating communities’ cross-border contact
The northern sector of Mvolo County where it borders with Yirol West County in Lakes State was identified early on in NP’s deployment as one of the locations most likely to suffer an outbreak of violence. Mvolo County is home to the Moru ethnic group who live in uneasy coexistence with the Dinka Atwot who live in neighbouring Yirol West County.
The Moru are agro-pastoralists who cultivate crops and keep a few cattle for wealth and to supplement their diets whilst the Dinka Atwot are primarily pastoralists who keep large herds of cows in cattle camps which move in search of fresh grass with the changing of the seasons.
Each year at the beginning of the dry season the Dinka Atwot cattle camps move south out of Lakes State into Western Equatoria and Mvolo County, which lies directly on the migratory routes, is plunged into violent conflict. Since establishing its field team in Greater Mundri last May, NP has often discussed the problem of the approaching dry season with the government officials in Mvolo County, who are greatly concerned that in every autumn people die or flee their homes in advance of the migrating cattle. Until recently, and despite persistent efforts, NP has had little contact with members of the Dinka Atwot community. However, in early October efforts to bring the two communities together received a great boost.
A Pastor from Mapioditi, Lakes State, is working to establish a cross-community peace prayer meeting in advance of the referendum, and extended the invitation members of the Kokori community just across the border in Mvolo County. Kokori is often the focal point of fierce fighting, and the Pastor hopes that by bringing the communities together in prayer for the common goal of peace, violence can be prevented at the time of the referendum. During a visit to Kokori village, NP’s field team were informed of the invitation, and decided that it presented the perfect opportunity to build relationships with the communities on the Lakes State side of the border, as well as to bring the neighbouring communities together in pursuit of common goals.
In order to build upon this valuable opportunity, NP is working closely with officials and community leaders throughout Mvolo County, and specifically in Kokori. Meetings have been held with leaders of women’s groups, key political figures and Paramount Chiefs, all of whom have welcomed the idea of an community gathering aimed at reducing violence and promoting inter-ethnic understanding. The date for the meeting is yet to be established, but NP’s team is fully committed to providing whatever support is deemed necessary to bring it about.
Working with internally displaced people in Wito and Bangolo
Western Equatoria has been the target of sustained attacks carried out by the Lords’ Resistance Army, an armed rebel group which originated in northern Uganda but have since spread into the are along the Sudanese border, northern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Chad. In 2009 the LRA attacked a village called Bangolo in Mundri West County, prompting several inhabitants of the village to flee their homes with their children and possessions. They settled in a village called Wito, further from the border and therefore less likely to be attacked.
The families have been living in Wito ever since, in shocking conditions. Many of the children suffer from nodding disease, a fatal illness that is found only in this part of Southern Sudan, and the families often suffer water shortages. As a result of these harsh conditions, all of the IDPs want to return to their home village of Bangolo, however, they are hampered by lack of funds and uncertainty.
In order to facilitate their return, NP’s team went to the IDP camp and consulted with the group’s leaders. They also took a trip out to Bangolo village to assess the likely difficulties that the IDPs would experience if they returned.
The journey to Bangolo village was extremely difficult, as the village is completely cut off from any major roads, and those that did exist are in a very bad condition. It took the team 3 hours to travel 10 miles, and several times that had to stop to dig out the vehicle. Owing to the isolated nature of Bangolo village, the team were at first received with some suspicion, however the residents soon accepted their presence, and welcomed them into the heart of the settlement. They expressed great concern about the perceived levels of insecurity, and asked NP to provide support to their community as they prepared to welcome back those who had fled the LRA attacks.
Unlike many communities asked to receive returning IDPs, the residents of Bangolo claimed to be very happy that their former neighbours were returning, and made it clear that their land had remained unclaimed since they had left it, and would be returned to them.
In order for the retuning IDPs to reintegrate back into their home communities without provoking conflict, there remains much work to be done. However, NP’s team is committed to accompanying those who wish to return back to their home village, and will provide sustained and committed support all in Bangolo for as long as the inhabitants require it.