Recent fighting in Upper Nile State has left over 200 people dead or injured, thousands displaced and property looted or burned, according to local officials.
The clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and militia of so-called “Capt. Olony” began in Detim Payam,PanyikangCounty, on 6 March when a misunderstanding occurred between the two groups at a checkpoint, noted UNMIS Malakal Security Officer Gordon Benn.
“The clashes (then) affected surrounding payams, including Owachi and Wajak,” Mr. Benn said. “Many people ran for their lives and became internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Dollieb Hill and Malakal.”
After the clashes in Detim Payam, most of Capt. Olony’s followers scattered and hid, the security officer continued. “On 11 March, around 100 militia (fighters) came to Malakal to attack the town as their retaliation to … what happened in Detim Payam. They created fear and chaos in the community.”
The next day (12 March), six militias were surrounded by the SPLA and South Sudan Police Service (SSPS). With nowhere to run, they took refuge in theSOSChildrenVillageorphanage, making 103 children their hostages.
Shootings between the militias in the orphanage, SPLA, and SSPS resulted in 11 fatalities, including six militia fighters, four SSPS and one SPLA, while nine SSPS and five SPLA were wounded, according to Upper Nile State Minister of Information and Communication Peter Lam. Fortunately, the children all survived.
Following the Malakal fighting, the UN Mine Action Office (UNMAO) and MineTech removed seven mortars, four rockets, one hand grenade, and 200 assorted pieces of ammunition from around the town.
“UNMAO and MineTech International were thoroughly cleaning the town out from the unexploded ordnance (UXO) for three days in a row from the 15 to 18 March,” Security Officer Benn noted.
The exact number of people who were killed or injured in Detim and Malakal remains unknown. But according to Upper Nile State Minister of Information and Communication Peter Lam, the state government recorded about 107 bodies after the Malakal clashes.
Malakal Teaching Hospital received some 43 people who were injured in the fighting, said its medical director, Dr. Tut Gony. “Most of them were gunshot wounded. Unfortunately, six out of the 43 victims … died in the hospital.”
Dr. Gony said the hospital sought and received assistance from UNMIS to treat and evacuate the seriously wounded patients. “We have limited facilities so we referred three patients to UNMIS Indian Level II Field Hospital and requested seven patients to be evacuated toJubafor further treatment.”
During the Detim fighting, more than 30 wounded people were admitted to Malakal Teaching Hospital, including about 18 SPLA soldiers.
Payams head Chief Pagan Ajak said 45 bodies had been found in the river. “During the clashes, most civilians tried to run for their lives by all necessary means, including swimming in the river. Unfortunately, some of them drowned.”
Although these clashes were between the SPLA and Capt. Olony’s followers, civilians were also severely affected, as they lived inside the military barrack.
As In Sudan went to print, calm had returned to the area, according to Brig Gen. Edward Dud, Administrative Officer of Division 7 SPLA in Owachi Payam. “The situation is calm now, so we need people to return to their villages.”
Data gathered by Dollieb Hill Payam Authority indicates that some 3,430 households are now IDPs in the payam. Others fled to Malakal and surrounding bomas within Owachi Payam.
But identifying and recording the number of IDPs from the clashes is problematic, as many are living with friends and relatives.
Regardless where they were living, the IDPs were in urgent need of assistance, Chief Ajak said. “We, friends and relatives, are happy to help them, but we also have very limited resources,” said the chief. “They need shelter, food, non-food items to survive. But most of all, they need protection and security from the government so they can return to their villages.”
UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, including the World Food Program, UNICEF, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, had come to Dollieb Hill’s Obel boma to assess the IDPs’ needs, said boma representative Gatluak Peter Mobir.
And the Upper Nile State government had condemned the recent clashes. “We have placed the security organs around the town to protect the civilians and their property,” Upper Nile State Governor Simon Kun Puoch said at a Malakal press conference on 21 March.
“The Upper Nile State government and Government of Southern Sudan have formed a security committee to investigate the recent clashes,” Information Minister Lam, who also serves as spokesperson for the state government, said during a separate interview.
“There was a serious security failure here,” the minister added. “How come we weren’t aware that there were hundreds of people crossing the river with their weapons? In fact, we (the state government) invested a lot of money on security.”
The state government was working on a better security system by making several changes in the hierarchy, Mr. Lam said.
“Prior to the clashes, the head of Upper Nile State security committee was the Adviser of Security for the Governor,” he said. “Now we appointed the Upper Nile State Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement to be the Head of the State Security Committee. We are also going to review our funding allocation on security.”
The Upper Nile State Security Committee consists of the Ministry of Local Government and Law Enforcement, the Adviser of Security for the Governor, the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitution Development, SPLA, SSPS, Wildlife, Mine, and Prison Service.
On behalf of the Upper Nile State government, Minister Lam thanked UNMIS for its assistance during and after the clashes. In addition to clearing UXOs and assisting with the wounded, the mission also helped assess the security and humanitarian situations, conducted joint patrols with the SPLA and SSPS, and provided logistical support like air transportation around the counties.
This article is originally published on “In Sudan” magazine April 2011 edition on page 8 & its copyrights solely belong to UNMIS.