By Bonifacio Taban Kuich
January 8, 2013 (BENTIU) - Cattle owners in South Sudan’s Unity State say that the government has failed to protect them from raids from neighbouring areas after an estimated 7,000 cattle were stolen from Payinjiar County in December.
The raiders are suspected to have come from neighbouring Lakes State, Payinjiar County authorities say, adding that 11 civilians were killed in last month’s raids. However, local people told Sudan Tribune on Monday that 17 people died in the December attacks.
An estimated 7,409 cattle were taken from Makur cattle camp, which hosts 100,000 heads of cattle, locals say.
James Gatluak Gatbuok a survivor from Makur attack says he alone lost 76 cows. He accused the government of neighbouring Lake State of involvement in their attack.
“I have told my state government those who came and attack us were not civilians, they are part of government security, I got surprise when they use machine guns something like PKM. I wonder how civilians got access to such heavy machine guns, let the government tell us whether civilians in Lake State have factory for manufacturing such heavy weapons”, said Gatbuok.
Authorities in Rumbek, the capital of Lakes State, have denied any involvement in the incident.
The spokesman for South Sudan’s army (SPLA), Colonel Philip Aguer, has also denied that the military is behind any cattle raiding attacks. Aguer told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday that there are criminals who dress in army uniform to tarnish the image of the SPLA.
Payinjiar County authorities say the December attack was provocative to both the government and civilians and have confirmed the deployment of security forces along roads in the area.
Michael Thoar Gatpan, a Payinjiar official, says both Unity and Lake State have not deployed enough forces in the area to protect civilians. The axis between Unity, Lakes an Warrap is one of South Sudan’s must dangerous internal borders, with cross-border raids and counter attacks a common occurrence.
“The cattle raiders move freely from there to there but we have no good control between states government where they can also try to control those cattle raiders”, added Gatpan.
Payinjiar authorities report that the state government sent an extra 150 security forces after the raid on Makur last month. Ezekiel Lony Kaok a resident at Payinjiar County says cattle raiding is a major challenge for people in the area after they were disarmed and promised protection by the SPLA.
After decades of civil war South Sudan remains awash with small arms despite government attempts to disarm civilians. However, communities that have handed over their weapons complain that they are now vulnerable to attack.
Kaok says that for the last three years people from Payinjiar have been unable to defend themselves due to the poor government response to cattle raids. He claims that the death of innocent civilians is due to the South Sudanese government’s "weak disarmament" policy.
“Every day we die and this death come us a result of weak disarmament, leaving other civilians with guns on their hand and disarm one side, if that is the matter let government return back our guns in order to protect our cattle from raiders”, said Kaok.
Although the cycle of cattle raiding continues in South Sudan despite the disarmament efforts, locals say that state government are not acting to stop the problem. One suggestion to end the disputes over cattle is that owners must bear certificates of registration to prove the ownership of their cattle.