February 7, 2012 (JUBA) - Following six weeks of raids and counter raids in Jonglei state, armed men from the Nuer ethnic group announced Saturday that they are forming a combined force with the Dinka tribe and members of the Nuer from Ethiopia to form a border force to "quarantine" the Murle.
- Victims of ethnic violence in Jonglei state in South Sudan wait in line at the World Food Program distribution center in Pibor to receive emergency food rations, last week. Tens of thousands fled their homes after ethnic violence erupted in Pibor county (Michael Onyiego/AP)
The 30,000 strong group of armed civilians, calling itself the White Army, will encircle Murle areas to prevent cattle raids, a statement released from the group said.
In late December and early January between 6,000 and 8,000 armed men from the Luo Nuer tribe attacked Pibor County, where the Murle live, raiding cattle, setting fire to homes and killing scores of civilians.
Around 140,000 people were affected by the raid and the counter raids carried out by Murle youth on Nuer and Dinka areas of Jonglei.
The United Nations and South Sudanese military were overwhelmed by the attack belatedly deploying more troops to the area, which has now been declared a disaster zone.
At the time statements from the White Army said it would not leave Murle land until all of the group had been disarmed and women and children abducted in previous raids had been returned.
Having attracted criticism for previous statements that threatened to wipe out the Murle, the latest statement said that this operation, "will not target Murle’s women, children and the elderly. The White Army that shall take part will only be at the border to prevent cattle rustling and look for armed Murle youth who may be hiding in the bushes."
The statement accused Murle groups of attacking a sacred town Wec Deang, where the Nuer prophet Ngundeng is buried. The White Army also claimed that Murle members of South Sudanese military (SPLA) had defected from their base in Upper Nile State in order to attack Dinka and Nuer civilians.
By 1 March 20,000 South Sudanese Nuer and 10,000 Dinka and to Ethiopian Nuer, who also blame the Murle for cattle raids and abductions will have surrounded Pibor County where the minority group live, according to the release.
The White Army appealed for the SPLA to give them weapons to help them with ’Operation Savannah Storm’. However, the SPLA has said it plans to disarm the civilian population to stop fighting in the volatile state.
South Sudan is awash with small arms as a hangover from the two-decade civil war with North Sudan that resulted in the country’s independence in July last year. The Jonglei violence has raised questions other how well South Sudan will be able to function considering its endemic poverty, corruption and competition for resources such as cattle along tribal lines.
CYCLE OF REVENGE
The meeting to decide on the new course of action took place in Uror County, the White Army’s statement says, which was attacked by the Murle in August killing over 600 people according to the UN.
The August attack was in return for a June offensive by the Luo Nuer in which hundreds were also killed.
There are no clear figures of casualties since the violence peaked again over Christmas and New Year. The Pibor Commissioner says over 3,000 were killed but this has been dismissed by the UN.
The head of the UN in South Sudan is appearing on BBC World’s Hard Talk interview programme today, with Jonglei expected to be one of main topics. Many have accused the UN of not reacting fast enough and failing to fulfill its mandate to protect the civilian population in the conflict.
The UN says that its mission in South Sudan is to support the government and army not to act in place of it. Russia’s refusal to allow its air assets to be used in the response the Jonglei crisis and lack helicopters more generally has hindered the ability for humanitarian agencies to reach remote areas of Jonglei, which has few functioning roads.