By Julius N. Uma
April 16, 2012 (KUAJOK) - Hundreds of youth, civil society activists, women and students on Monday held huge demonstrations in South Sudan’s Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states protesting against the United Nations’ calls for the withdrawal of southern forces from the disputed Heglig oil region.
- Civil society activists demonstrate in Warrap state capital, Kuajok, April 16, 2012 (Julius Uma/ST)
South Sudan’s army (SPLA) say that it has held the region for nearly a week, although the Sudan Armed Forces have claimed to have retaken part if the area. Neither claim has been independently verified as fierce clashes continue.
In Kuajok, the Warrap State capital, protestors chanted slogans in support of South Sudan president, Salva Kiir, while strongly condemning UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon and Sudanese leader, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir.
“The UN Secretary General must apologise for his unpolished statement,” read one of the placards, while another urged the international community to be fair to both Sudan and South Sudan.
Speaking in the South Sudanese parliament on Thursday Kiir said that Ban had given him an "order" to withdraw from the region. Protests have been organised in the capital Juba, Jonglei and Lakes State against the international community’s call for the SPLA to leave the area.
The protestors also handed over a strongly-worded petition to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) state coordination office, in which they expressed firm support towards the SPLA’s occupation of Panthou - as the Heglig region is known in Dinka.
The army’s actions, they argued in the petition, was in retaliation for SAF’s alleged killing of innocent civilians in South Sudan through a series of aerial bombardments in several parts of Unity State.
“We the youth, civil society organisations and the entire public of Warrap State are deeply saddened by the recent statement made by Ban Ki-Moon in which he ordered President Kiir to withdraw in Panthou,” partly reads the petition.
It added, “Such a statement shows the limited knowledge of the UN Secretary General to address the issues that are still outstanding between the North and South Sudan since the time the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] and after the referendum period.”
The protestors draw parallels with SAF’s occupation of the Abyei area in May last year, which displaced thousand of people and ask why Khartoum was not put under as much pressure to withdraw its forces.
Saaman Dau Chan, a protestor in Warrap State told Sudan Tribune he fully supports the SPLA’s occupation of Panthou/Helglig, which he claimed is part of South Sudan as per the border as it was at Sudan’s independence from Britain in 1956.
“We need to refer back to the 1956 [agreements] in order to resolve this matter,” he said, as another chanted, “Yes, Yes Panthou! No, No Heglig”.
The protestors urged the UN, Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the European Union and the Arab League, among others to seek immediate remedies to resolve all outstanding issues between Sudan and South Sudan.
In the run up to the Heglig clashes both Juba and Khartoum expressed dissatisfaction with the African Union’s role chairing the post-independence talks in Addis Ababa.
Upon receiving the petition, Fergus Boyle, the UNMISS civil affair officers in Warrap State lauded the activists for their peaceful stand on the contentious issues at hand. Although he did not elaborate on the detail of the petition, Boyle pledged to ensure that the document reaches the office of the UN Secretary General.
He however reiterated the UN and African Union’s earlier calls for both countries’ troops to pull out of the disputed region for “the sake of peace”.
Later on, the protestors marched to the council of ministers to deliver a similar petition to Warrap’s deputy governor, Yel Mareng.
NORTHERN BAHR EL GHAZAL PROTESTS
A group of activists on Monday paralysed business in Aweil, the Northern Bahr el Ghazal capital, with a similar demonstration in support of the SPLA’s occupation of Heglig. They too submitted a petition to UNMISS.
“We will never withdraw from Heglig since it is part of South Sudan,” said the group in a press release extended to Sudan Tribune.
Angok Arthur Akuein, an activist from Northern Bahr el Ghazal said the peaceful demonstration was not only in support of the SPLA but to further condemn the Sudanese government for its provocative military aggression towards South Sudan.
“The Sudan government has been waging war against the south through ground attacks and aerial bombardments since, before and after secession,” Akuein remarked, while condemning recent calls from UN Secretary General and the African Union demanding withdrawal of southern forces.
Paul Malong Awan, the governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal praised the activists for their peaceful demonstration and willingness to defend South Sudan’s territorial integrity against external aggressors.
“Today you have shown the spirit of togetherness and I urge you to continue with the same spirit. We are ready to support you as [a] government,” Awan told the activists gathered at the state council of ministers.
BAN KI-MOON REACTS
Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General on Monday reiterated his deep concern over continued hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan, including its impact on innocent civilians.
In a statement the UN chief called on both parties to end the fighting immediately and to respect international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians.
The UN chief urged the Government of Sudan to cease immediately all aerial bombardment of South Sudanese territory, while echoing earlier calls on the Government of South Sudan to withdraw immediately from Heglig. He asked that the two sides use legal and diplomatic instruments to address the status of oil-rich area, which until last week supplied Khartoum with half its oil production.
“The Secretary-General is alarmed over reports received this weekend of the build-up of armed militia in the Abyei Area, which is in violation of the 20 June Agreement in which the parties committed themselves to the immediate withdrawal of all armed elements from the Abyei Area,” the statement said.
The Secretary-General, it added, calls on the Government of Sudan to ensure the full and immediate withdrawal of these elements from the Area.