June 15, 2009 (JUBA) – The UN relief barges ambushed last Friday on the Sobat River were carrying hidden ammunition, insinuated a statement stemming from the Nasir County Community in Juba, South Sudan.
Over 40 people may have died in the attack, in which armed civilians of the eastern Jikany Nuer attacked a UN World Food Programme barge convoy guarded by SPLA soldiers. So far 16 boats have returned to Nasir, all without the food they were carrying, according to Michelle Iseminger, the head of WFP’s Juba programme. UNMIS peacekeepers report that 5 boats may have sunk, while WFP Juba Logistics heard that 4 had sunk.
The boats were on their way from Nasir to Akobo, after having been blockaded in Nasir until south Sudanese government officials negotiated their departure on Friday. The United Nations says that the 27 barges were carrying humanitarian aid and Iseminger calls the development "a massive blow for the operation" of getting food into Akobo, where WFP last distributed a 15-day ration for displaced 16,000 people in April.
Lou Nuer, residing in Akobo, and eastern Jikany Nuer around Nasir, fought a war between 1993 and 2004, in the wake of a split within the dominant insurgency in the south. Among many peace conferences during that period and subsequently, one was conducted in Ulang County around March this year. The conference did not forestall bloody attacks, including one by Lou fighters at Torkech in which 75 people were killed or drowned while trying to flee.
Reflecting the distrust and animosity between the Lou and Jikany, the statement today from the Nasir representatives in Juba questions whether the barge convoy had another agenda other than feeding the displaced Lou civilians.
"When the local authority tried to inspect these boats, they were refused to inspect three boats and this raised doubts that the three boats might be carrying harmful objects, possibly arms or ammunitions. After learning this, questions about who owns these boats and under whose responsibility arose," it says.
"It was later discovered that the boats were under direct responsibility of Dr. Riek Gai Kok, the Presidential Advisor to the President of Republic, Omar Hasan Al-Bashir. Other sources which are yet to be confirmed revealed that 18 of these boats were sent by UNHCR," they state.
Furthermore, the letter questions why SPLA soldiers were accompanying the barges rather than UN peacekeepers serving with UNMIS.
But the authors affirm the history of their loyalty to the cause of SPLM/A, saying "We gave everything without reservation ranging from human beings, livestock, and food including free firearms during Anyanya (I) rebellion when guns were rare commodities to find by which to prosecute the war. Our man once Alternate commander John Jok Mundit was the one who received late Garang with his family and hosted them in his house in Ethiopian town of Thiajak or Adura."
"Mandeng village twenty miles south of Nasir town is the first place where SPLA gunned down the first two Airplanes in 1983. Late Lt General Stephen Duol Chol was the one who helped in uniting Anyanya two and SPLA in 1987. He fought gallantly all through during the SPLA struggle till the time of his untimely death in 2007," recalls the document.
Then the letter asks, "With these wonderful contributions, why SPLA is still conspiring against our people?"