March 9, 14 (BOR/LONDON) - As the dust settles on the tumultuous three months for residents of Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, which has been at the heart of rebellion against the government, people are beginning to count the economic as well as the personal cost of the conflict.
- Shops allegedly torched by rebels are pictured in Bor, capial of Jonglei state, on January 19, 2014 (Photo AFP /Waakhe Simon Wudu)
On Monday an Ethiopian trader, who has been operating in Jonglei state since 2011, told Sudan Tribune said that 300,000 South Sudanese pounds (around $103,000) was stolen from his shop on 30 December 2013, just two weeks after fighting begin in the capital Juba.
Daniel Merhawi Debesay, who is Eritrean by birth but holds an Ethiopian passport, says he also lost produce, including beer and soft drinks worth, around 668,000 SSP ($229,370)
The drinks seller said that he had felt at home in South Sudan but now fears that his shop may have been targeted because of his nationality. Many South Sudanese in Bor believe rumours that Eritrea may be backing the rebel movement led by South Sudan’s former Vice President Riek Machar.
When fighting began between members of the South Sudanese armed forced on 15 December last year, the government accused Machar and many others who had become increasingly opposed to President Salva Kiir of attempting to stage a coup.
Machar denies this but has assumed control of a loose coalition of defected soldiers and armed civilians who have control of much of Jonglei and Upper Nile as well as parts of Unity state.
Debesay ran to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Bor with his wife and brother when the war reached its peak in Bor, leaving behind everything in his shop.
The state capital has changed hands four times since the conflict, which has killed an estimated 10,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands, began.
"They came running, shooting people. I saw a lot of people killed here, I ran to UNMISS. It was on that day that they looted my shop, took all the crates I had in stock. They took the money also, 300,000 [South Sudanese] pounds", Debesay told Sudan Tribune.
It was the saddest moment in his life, he said, and had a serious psychological affect on his brother, who sheltered in the UN compound with him until the town was retaken by the South Sudanese army (SPLA).
"He became sick, complaining of headache and after few days, he became like a mad man. He is now under treatment in Uganda, Kampala", he said.
Friends had helped him by paying for his medication in Uganda.
Debesay has now received a loan of 15,000 pounds from the Ethiopian and Eritrean business community in South Sudan’s capital Juba to restart his drinks business.
The trader, who spent two months in the UN compound said he saw many of the items looted from Bor market being exchanged between displaced people in the camp, including mattresses, phones, soft drinks and water.
THREATENED IN BOR
Debesay, who is an Eritrean by origin says that he and his wife have been threatened over the last week by local people in Bor who claim Eritrea is aiding Machar’s rebels by providing them with arms and ammunition.
Claudio Gramizzi, an independent researcher with extensive knowledge of arms trafficking in the region said he was not aware of any evidence that Eritrea was providing weapons to the SPLM/A in Opposition, despite the rumours that have circulated over the past two weeks.
The lack of evidence has not stopped people taking their anger out on expatriates like Debesay.
"I came to Bor again because other places are not good for business because of congestion and the distance factors. But now the people who knew me as an Eritrean threatened me. I will inform the police about so that I can get help immediately", Debesay said.
Throughout much the civil war against Khartoum that lasted for over two decades the SPLA - then a rebel group rather than a national army for independent South Sudan - had quite good connections with Asmara.
Gramizzi, told Sudan Tribune in an email: "This goes back into history, but some networks survive in time even when the major political frameworks evolve. Eritreans are in Juba (they own a couple of hotels and some businessmen operating in South Sudan are quite well connected with the regime in their home country), but I never heard about them being involved in supporting armed actors."
Over the last five years Khartoum and Asmara have improved their relationship and stopped backing rebels in the others territory. This is a marked changed since before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, when the Eritrean capital was home to several armed groups operating in Sudan, including Darfuri rebels.
From a geopolitical perspective Eritrea arming the South Sudanese rebels would not make much sense, Gramizzi said, but added that it was not impossible.
"If there is some support – it is small volume and channelled through personal connections and they don’t really reflect a governmental position."
The Eritrean government do not have many reasons to put the Sudanese government in Khartoum in a difficult position by supporting Machar, according to Gramizzi, adding they also have no real reasons to oppose Salva Kiir’s government.
"Sometimes, however, [the Eritrean government’s] geopolitical stand simply emerge[s] from their willingness to annoy Ethiopia" Gramizzi notes.
So far the conflict has, publicly at least, brought Khartoum and Juba closer together as they both need to keep South Sudan’s oil exports flowing through the north to fuel their ailing economies.
However, the presence of Ugandan troops, deployed by Kampala initially to help secure Juba and the evacuation of their nationals but now openly fighting the rebels alongside the SPLA, has angered Sudan and their continued presence could raise tensions especially considering their proximity to the oil fields in Unity and Upper Nile.