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South Sudan: Disarmament Operation Triggered Rebellion and led to multiple killings in Tonj area of Warrap state

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Tomori, NCMP – At least 20 people are reported to have been killed during a disarmament operation in the Tonj area of Warrap state on Saturday, August 8, when armed groups clashed with security forces. The fighting reportedly erupted in the Roljyang area on Saturday afternoon as South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) personnel attempted to seize weapons from local community members, with security forces becoming engaged in a four-hour firefight after two civilians were shot dead in unclear circumstances. Hundreds of residents are reported to have fled the area following the clashes, while local community leaders accused the SSPDF of launching retaliatory operations on Sunday morning in which a number of properties were set alight and livestock killed. However, military officials have not yet commented on the allegations.

Further clashes and security operations are likely in Tonj and other areas of Warrap state in the near term.

Areas of South Sudan have long been plagued by communal violence, fuelled by tensions between the Dinka, Nuer, and Murle communities. However, cattle raiding attacks in the region have increased significantly in recent months, with hundreds being killed and thousands displaced in an escalating campaign of violence between rival herder communities. The government has launched several initiatives to prevent cattle raiding and retaliatory attacks, but tensions between communities remain high and the capability of security forces to intervene is severely limited.

The SSPDF launched disarmament operations in Warrap state in July in response to rising levels of communal violence. However, heavily armed communities in Tonj and some other areas of the state have resisted these efforts.

According to Commissioner Aguek, some houses have been burnt. They [soldiers] burnt schools, the hospital and the drugs store. So the death toll may continue to rise because those wounded have no medication. The area is also muddy, cars cannot access the area to provide help.

The initiatives taken so far have contributed to minimal reduction of the arms possession and in other ways triggered the level of inter-communal violence and continued rebellion against the government by various communities.

It is the responsibility of the government to provide the security for all people within its territory to make sure that people do not live in fear and their properties and lives are protected both from internal as well as external threats. The civilian disarmament program that was conducted did not comprehend the parameters that led to arms possession. The government is using the coercive measures to collect arms without proper consultation with community to identify opportunities for peaceful process.

In places where cooperation of community and involvement were ensured there will be less violent incidents and arms will collected successfully. But the question that remained unanswered is: Why do civilians want to hold arms? Is it because they want arms at their disposal? No, it is because of many factors that are embedded by many years of civil war and the need for survival, protection and livelihood. 

These must be addressed with creativity in the disarmament approach.

References

  • Stephen Pande A Clarion Call to Action, South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms Quarterly Magazine March 2008
  • John A. Snowden, Work in Progress: Security Force Development in South Sudan through February 2012, Small Arms Survey Geneva June 2012
  • Adam, O’Brien, Shorts in Dark: South Sudan Civilians Disarmament, 2008
  • Small Arms Survey. (2013). Pendulum swings: The rise and fall of insurgent militias in South Sudan. Human Security Baseline Assessment, (Number 22)
  • GardaWorld Website

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