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Sudan's North-South Border : A Role for Civilian Peacekeepers?

Date: October 1, 2010

north1In November 2010, Nonviolent Peaceforce conducted two assessment missions along the tense border dividing north and south Sudan. Country Director Tiffany Easthom and Programme Officer Anna Stein were invited by AECOM, a US contractor, to visit Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity State, areas selected for their strategic significance, conflict dynamics, and importance as sites of return for internall displaced persons (IDPs).

The mission team met with a broad spectrum of actors from state level government, county level government, civil society and international organizations, and surveyed the situation on the ground first-hand. The purpose was to assess the current and projected conflict dynamics, operating environment, existing protection and prevention mechanisms, and entry points for unarmed civilian peacekeeping.


Northern Bahr El Ghazal

Misseriya leaders at the USIP workshopOnly 30% of the villages in Northern Bahr el Ghazal have access to improved drinking water and and 93% of villages have no access to health services. Approximately 140,000 people are considered severely food insecure, and an additional 309 000 people are moderately food insecure. Conflict between the pastoralist Dinka and Arab nomadic Misseriya and Rezeigat communities increases during the dry season migrations, resulting in abductions, cattle rustling, and burning of homes. The state is also exposed to violence spilling over from the conflict in Darfur: in November, the Sudanese military conducted four separate aerial bomardments inside Northern Bahr el Ghazal, pursuing rebels from Darfur.

NP had the chance to attend a reconciliation workshop facilitated by the US Institute of Peace in Wara Wara. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together Dinka and Misseriya for dialogue regarding migration-conflict. The common message from both sides was a shared interest in mutual coexistence coupled with a mutual frustration regarding broken or unimplemented agreements. Since 2008, there have been many workshops and many conferences, but little ground-level support for stabilization and violence reduction. The mission team assessed this as an obvious entry point for unarmed civilian peacekeeping.


Unity State   

Oil production in Unity State<--break->In Unity State, the humanitarian situation is no less dire: despite the fact that it contains much of Sudan’s oil reserves, the benefits of resource extraction have not trickled down to the state’s citizens. Half of the households in Unity State are food insecure, one-fifth of them severely so; 42% of villages use untreated river water as the main source of water. Only 19% of villages have a school of any kind, and fewer than one in three girls are enrolled in formal education. 

As the site of a disputed border and rich oilfields, and the battleground for recent political and militia conflicts, Unity State regularly experiences localized medium- to high-intensity violence. Cattle, land-use and migratory conflicts are particularly acute along the state’s borders. As observed by the assessment team, these issues are virtually identical to those in Northern Bahr el Ghazal. In recent months, rumours circulated that a troop build-up is occuring on both sides of the north-south border; NP was only able to verify a build-up on the south side. 

Civilian women and children walking alongside armed soliders on the Bentiu-Mayom roadNP met Mayom County Commissioner John Madeng, who identified a number of key conflict drivers in the county. In March of this year, an estimated one thousand heavily armed Dinka civilians carried out an attack in an area inhabited by Nuer, in which over 1800 cattle were stolen and ten people killed, including children. Commissioner Madeng said there have been 123 incidents of “revenge killings” in Mayom in 2010, and attributed these to citizens engaging in vigilante justice. The Commissioner has formed fledgling committees intended to deal with issues of conflict resolution, peacebuilding and security and expressed great concern that without technical support and security, these communities would not become effective. Providing protection, de-escalating violent conflict and supporting the implementation of these committees are key entry points for unarmed civilian peacekeeping in the county.  

Unity State has also received over 27,000 IDP returnees since October; IDPs are returning from the north due to concerns about their status and security if the January 2011 referendum results in South Sudan’s secession. Many IDPs are now living in schools in the state capital, Bentiu, waiting to return to home villages; displaced women and children are at heightened risk of sexual- and gender-based violence and abuse. NP met with the South Sudan General Women’s Association, whose members highlighted the need for civilian mechanisms designed to monitor the security of vulnerable IDP returnees.

Urgent Need, Urgent Response  

NP has had significant success in its efforts to protect civilians and reduce violence in Western Equatoria State (WES) since establishing a field presence there in mid-2010. With support from the Government of Belgium, our work in WES will continue into 2011, with a particular focus on averting and de-escalating violence resulting from the January 2011 referendum on South Sudan’s independence.

But last month’s mission made clear that the needs are equally urgent on the north-south border, and NP is expoloring a possible response. According to Country Director Tiffany Easthom, “Our strategy would be to position civilian peacekeeping teams at flash points along the north-south border area. As the only organization focused solely on the direct protection of civilians from physical violence, there is both a moral imperative and a strategic opening for NP to take a lead role in this region.”

If activated, the short- to medium-term impact of this strategy would be violence reduction, stabilization and direct civilian protection in a vulnerable, under-served area. The longer-term impact would be civilian peacekeeping teams able to take on a potential lead role in the civilian component of border monitoring, should next year’s referendum create a new international frontier.

Due to the strategic relevance of the border area, donor interest in stabilization and security programming is high. Given the prevalence of oil, the heavily-disputed border demarcation process, and the large-scale influx of returning IDPs there is particular donor and political interest in Unity State. Multiple organizations are conducting assessment missions in the area and donors can expect a barrage of proposals in the immediate future. There is significant and vocal interest and support from county, state and regional government officials for an international civilian peacekeeping presence, and NP will seek to leverage that support if expansion to the borderlands takes place.

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