April 5, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s Shilluk (Chollo) community said it has established a defence force charged with protecting the lives and properties of its people, underscoring the central government’s failure to provide adequate security.
In a statement extended to Sudan Tribune, the community said they risked losing their land unless they fought to defend Shilluk territory.
“To face this disaster the Chollo youth have decided to defend their helpless people and liberate Chollo villages from the Nuer militia invaders. This decision had to be taken because our people were being chased like animals from place to place,” noted the statement.
The statement, which bears names of youth leadership, said the decision was prompted by the fact that their area had experienced ongoing insecurity since violence erupted in the country’s capital, Juba, in mid-December last year.
The conflict later spread to the three states of the Greater Upper Nile region.
The youth group claims their community has been subjected to “ruthless and unceasing brutal killings of innocent and unarmed civilians in [Upper Nile state capital] Malakal and the villages, allegedly by members of the Nuer ethnic group.
Although the conflict stemmed mostly from a political divide, it has increasingly taken on ethnic dimensions, with forces loyal to president Salva Kiir, a Dinka, pitted against rebels aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar, a Nuer.
The group has accused the South Sudanese army (SPLA) of standing by while “Chollo were mercilessly killed, their properties looted and their villages occupied”.
According to the statement, all Chollo land south of Kodok is now under rebel control, with Kodok itself also under threat of imminent attack.
It says people in the area are facing a severe humanitarian situation, with women, children and the elderly bearing the brunt of the harsh conditions.
“These are conditions of destruction and annihilation of a nation,” the group adds in the statement
The group claims youth have joined with organised forces under the command of Mustafa Gai Lwal, who represents Panyikang county in the Upper Nile state assembly.
It says the forces, some of whom are retired soldiers who served under previous governments in Sudan, captured the area from Athidhiang up to Nyilwaak following heavy fighting with rebel troops and are poised to capture other areas.
Meanwhile, Upper Nile State information minister and residents claimed during a series of interview with Sudan Tribune on Saturday that a force under the command of Faromi Angui and Paul Nyirial had captured Tonga from rebels.
Tonga, the administrative headquarters of Panyikang county, is seen as a strategic town because of its location on the Nile River along with the porous border of neighbouring Sudan, generating fears it could be used as a supply route by rebels.
“I congratulate our youth because they have played a key role in the recapturing of this town,” information minister Philip Jiben Ogal told Sudan Tribune on Saturday.
Lwal, who oversaw the operation, told Sudan Tribune in an exclusive interview on Saturday that civilians who had fled the area were now starting to return.
“There were no civilians when we came but they have now started returning in small number. The big challenge now is what to eat because all the belongings have been looted," said Lwal.
All the cows and grains have been ransacked by the militia of Riek Machar,” he added.