South Sudan: Violence in Jonglei, Upper Nile forces Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) withdrawal
Escalating violence in the states of Upper Nile and Jonglei in southern Sudan has forced the international humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to temporarily withdraw its international staff from a number of clinics, the charity said.Further reading
Clashes between armed groups and direct attacks on villages have occurred in the region north and south of the River Sobat since the beginning of April, the medical charity said in a statement on Tuesday. On 10 April, armed militia attacked the village of Ulang, forcing most of the patients and villagers, along with MSF's staff, to flee. Thirty-one people were reported killed and dozens injured.
Interethnic fighting is not uncommon at this time of year, when local water sources dry up and various Sudanese ethnic groups, including the Nuer-Lou and the Nuer-Jikany, drive their cattle towards the Sobat River. The seasonal concentration of cattle and armed groups in a small area often results in increased tensions and interethnic clashes.
According to a regional observer, it seemed that the Lou - possibly with the support of the South Sudan Defense Force militia - attacked the Jikany in Ulang. A week later, armed Jikany men descended upon the small Lou village of Dini at the confluence of the Sobat and the White Nile rivers, in apparent retaliation for the previous attack, killing approximately 15 people and stealing 400 heads of cattle.
The attacks, however, are taking place within the context of a controversial disarmament programme by the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the volatile southeastern state of Jonglei. "The SPLA is trying to disarm all the groups of armed civilians in Jonglei," the regional observer said.
Initially, the observer added, the armed civilians - the so-called White Army - had no problem with the disarmament exercise, which started in January. Since giving up some of their weapons, however, they have been attacked by armed civilians of other ethnic groups and livestock has been looted. Various groups of the White Army now accuse the SPLA of carrying out the disarmament programme without providing subsequent protection against cattle raiding. Scores of people were killed and wounded in the village of Poktap when fighting between SPLA forces and armed civilians of the Lou community escalated on 2 May.
According to United Nations sources, interethnic clashes have continued for the last seven days in Jonglei State, also drawing in members of the Dinka and Muerle communities. A large number of civilians have reportedly been killed.
The escalating fighting between White Army groups and threats of further violence forced MSF to evacuate its international staff from Nasir and from clinics in Lankien and Pieri in mid-May. In Pieri, most of the patients in the MSF clinic, among them 120 patients being treated for tuberculosis, were forced to flee. Medical equipment, drugs and food for the patients were looted, leaving the clinic effectively destroyed. "Our Pieri compound has been completely looted. Everything is gone," said Kate Done, assistant head of mission for MSF Holland in southern Sudan, on Tuesday.
"The patients were scattered in mid-treatment," Done said. "They have runaway packages of medicines for one month. The issue is to locate them so that they can complete their [TB] programme in a supervised manner."
"We are concerned about the growing number of violent incidents," said MSF coordinator Cristoph Hippchen. "This means humanitarian assistance to the people of Upper Nile and Jonglei, already far below what is needed, will be even less now."
May 18 2006 IRIN report: Dinkas fleeing war to face starvation - Beliel Camp, South Darfur - New IDP camp at Nyamlell in Aweil, Northern Bahr el Ghazal.
May 25 2006 AP (Edith Lederer) report: UN Threatens to Pull Sudan Auditors - The UN's internal watchdog agency has threatened to withdraw its auditors from Sudan to protest restrictions placed on it by UN envoy Jan Pronk. Jan Pronk was asked to return to New York and would discuss the issue with senior UN officials. Pronk's main reason for coming back to New York is to discuss "the future direction of the mission given the imminent massive increase in the mission's workload as a result of the added planning for a UN mission in Darfur," UN spokesperson said.