March 5, 2013 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army has begun massive military operations to free Jonglei state’s Pibor county from the rebellion of David Yauyau in the Murle land, which it says is backed by Khartoum.
- South Sudan rebel leader David Yau Yau (UN photo)
Senior government officials say the rebels have refused to respond to calls for a peaceful settlement to the rebellion and were instead receiving supplies of ammunition and weapons airlifted from Khartoum in order to resume their operations against the state government in the coming rainy season.
The government, while deploying its troops silently to encircle the rebels for the last one week, has also been calling on Murle civilians to evacuate their villages and move to the counties main towns where they would be better protected and avoid being hurt in crossfire in the rural areas.
Pibor county’s commissioner, Joshua Konyi, on Monday said the military operations targeting rebels bases has begun, citing a fierce fighting which took place on Monday at 2pm in the area of Komkom.
Konyi, a Murle, said the South Sudanese army has inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels and seized weapons and ammunition as it pursues them, adding that civilians were safe.
“It was exactly 2:00pm and our forces controlled the situation and captured 2 RPGs, 1 PKM, 1 GM4 rifles and manage to kill 7 of them [rebels]. Our forces are in a good position," the commissioner told Sudan Tribune.
The commissioner also echoed the call to the Murle civilians to come to towns and leave their rural villages until the rebels were cleared from the area.
Senior military officials in Juba have also confirmed to Sudan Tribune the engagement with the rebels in their hideouts.
The new military operations came in the wake of the recent brutal killing of 104 migrating Lou-Nuer unarmed civilians and 14 soldiers in Walgak area of Akobo County by a group thought to be loyal to David Yauyau.
The army has also been tasked with forcefully disarming the young Murle men who have resisted voluntarily surrendering their guns, despite the fact that other neighbouring communities such as Dinka and Nuer had given in their guns to the authorities.
Vice president Riek Machar in his latest attempt to persuade the Murle to disarm visited their main town Pibor and called on the youth through their elders to listen to the government and avoid the rebellion.
However, Murle leaders have time again alerted the government that majority of armed Murle youth have already joined the rebellion and disarming them will mean fighting them as rebels with Yauyau.
Lou-Nuer leaders have appealed to the government to provide more protection in their areas, warning that the hit-and-run rebels may avoid direct confrontations with the army and instead look for soft civilian targets.
In recent weeks, however, there have been calls for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, but Yauyau, according to state officials, said he would only respond if international mediators are included as part of the process initiated by local leaders.
The rebellion in Pibor County was founded by David Yauyau in 2010 in rejection of elections results which declared that he lost his bid to become a member of the state parliament representing Gumruk.
In 2011, the rebel leader responded to amnesty calls from South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, and returned to Juba, only to re-launch his rebellion in April last year.
Since then, clashes between the army and forces loyal to him have gravely affected the security situation in Jonglei, with the latest peace attempt seen as key in efforts to salvage peace in the region.
A peace process, initiated by Murle traditional and political leaders early this year, suffered a setback following clashes between the SPLA and rebel forces. A soldier and two civilians died during the clash after armed men, commanded by James Kuburin, resisted orders from the army to surrender their weapons.