South Sudan: At What Point Does Conflict Become a War?

Posted: December 30, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan

Hannah McNeish / Getty Images

People wait outside a medical clinic on December 5, 2011, at the Doro refugee camp, near the town of Bunj, about 40 kilometres (26 miles) from the border in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, where on average 1,000 people arrive every day.

Assassinations. Pitched battles. Cross-border bombing raids. Hundreds of thousands of refugees. At what point will the rising conflict between Sudan and South Sudan be recognized as a new war?

South Sudan achieved independence from the north in July after a half century of grinding conflict in which more than 2 million people died. Separation has not led to peace, however, most importantly because neither side is happy with their new border. One point of conflict is a band of southern states in the new north Sudan — Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile — which remain on the upper side of the divide despite being home to armies of rebel secessionists. Many of these fought for independence alongside the south and continue to do so today, with enduring southern support.

A second reason for continuing conflict is claims by the northern regime in Khartoum over much of the territory now designated as South Sudan – not least those parts that are rich in oil – which seems to be behind repeated northern bombing raids into the south.

The latest indication this situation of mutual, interlocking and spiraling enmity might once again escalate to a fully-fledged war came Thursday when South Sudan reported that northern Sudanese bombers had once again bombed the south, killing 17 cattle herders in the southern state of West Bahr al-Ghazal, just south of the westernmost stretch of the new border. “This [attack in West Bahr al-Ghazal] is a hostile aggression that Khartoum has been conducting against the civilian population,” South Sudan’s military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer told the BBC. He added northern bombers had also struck areas in Unity state, another southern border province to the east where in November northern bombers hit a refugee camp.

Khartoum has denied carrying out any raids and claims it is the south that is guilty of aggression. Southern troops are massing in Unity state in preparation for an attack on the north, says the north’s military spokesman. Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesman, Al-Obeid Meruh, adds 350 members of the Darfur-based rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (J.E.M.) — whose leader Khalil Ibrahim was killed in fighting with northern forces a few days ago — crossed into South Sudan on Wednesday. Al-Obeid called on the international community to pressure the south “to stop supporting these troops and disarm them.”

The situation in South Sudan is further complicated by more fighting between the new government, which is dominated by the Dinka ethnic group and has already garnered an impressive reputation for ineptness and corruption, and a number of breakaway militias from different ethnic groups. (The leader of the most prominent of these, George Athor, was assassinated on Dec. 21). To a country that, as well as being the newest, is one of the poorest on earth, all this fighting has bequeathed the additional burden of a refugee crisis, with hundreds of thousands displaced and hundreds more arriving from the north every day. Meanwhile the U.N. is warning poor rains means 2.7 million southern Sudanese — out of a total population of 8 million — will need food aid to avoid malnutrition and famine in 2012. Maybe war isn’t the right word to describe what’s happening in South Sudan after all. How about catastrophe?

Read more:

South Sudan cattle clashes: UN moves troops to Pibor

A herdsman from the Nuer tribe stands among his cattle at a cattle-camp, near Nyal, in south Sudan on November 11, 2011Cattle are a central part of the lives of many communities in South Sudan

The United Nations is sending troop reinforcements to the South Sudanese town of Pibor to prevent an attack by members of the Lou Nuer ethnic group.

Tens of thousands of people from the rival Murle group fled the town on Friday morning, fearing violence.

Inter-ethnic clashes in Jonglei state, initially triggered by cattle raids, have cost the lives of about 1,000 people in recent months.

The UN already has a battalion of troops in Pibor.

Most victims of the clashes have been women and children. Both communities have abducted children during the violence.

“What can I do – we can’t work miracles” Kuol Manyang Juuk, Jonglei governor

Correspondents say these attacks are one of the biggest challenges to the stability of South Sudan, the world’s newest country. It only became an independent nation in July.

It is one of the world’s poorest regions, inhabited by about 200 ethnic groups, each with its own language and traditional beliefs.

About 6,000 armed men from the Lou Nuer community are marching through Jonglei state burning homes and seizing cattle along the way, says BBC East Africa correspondent Will Ross.

Earlier this week the entire town of Lukangol was burnt to the ground by Lou Nuer fighters. About 20,000 civilians managed to flee the town before the attack, but dozens were killed on both sides.

‘Poorly equipped’

The United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator in South Sudan, Lise Grande, told the BBC that the UN was reinforcing its troops in Pibor to assist the South Sudanese army in defending civilians.

“We are very concerned by the scale of this,” she said.


“The UN is facing enormous logistical challenges – we still have no military aircraft, only civilian helicopters,” she added.

Jonglei governor Kuol Manyang Juuk told the BBC that the UN would not be able to contain the violence because the Lou Nuer were moving around in the bush, rather than staying in towns.

He also said South Sudan’s army was badly equipped and most of its soldiers had been deployed to the border with Sudan following recent unrest there.

“We can’t work miracles,” he said.

South Sudan Vice-President Riek Machar has been shuttling between the rival communities in a push for peace. On Thursday night it seemed he had persuaded the Lou Nuer not to attack Pibor – but they then left in their thousands overnight heading towards that town.

Cattle plays a central role in the life of many South Sudanese communities. In the absence of banks, they are used to store wealth and to pay bride prices.

The violence between the two communities has been going on for years, but with modern weapons its scale is increasing.

Our correspondent says the clashes may have begun as cattle raids, but they have spiralled out of control into retaliatory attacks.

South Sudan: At What Point Does Conflict Become a War?TIME (blog)
By Alex Perry | @PerryAlexJ | December 30, 2011 | + People wait outside a medical clinic on December 5, 2011, at the Doro refugee camp, near the town of Bunj, about 40 kilometres (26 miles) from the border in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, 

South Sudan: VP Attempts to Stop Jonglei Violence
Juba — South Sudan’s Vice President, Riek Machar, attempted to stop further conflict in Jonglei state by visiting the affected areas on Wednesday. It is unclear whether the reconciliation efforts have worked with reports that Lou Nuer youth have 

Sudan Bombs South Sudan Killing 17 – SPLA
Juba — At least 17 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal State, following an aerial attack allegedly carried out by north Sudan, authorities told Sudan Tribune on Thursday. Several others are also said to 

From Sudan to America and back once again for Covinton man
Kent Reporter
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South Sudan: Students Urge Citizens to Support Government
Juba — South Sudanese Students Union in Uganda has called on all citizens to support the government of South Sudan in the process of state building effort that needs all to contribute immensely. Addressing the press conference here in Juba on Thursday .

South Sudan: Abyei Women Demand Representation in the Govt
Juba — A delegation from Abyei yesterday demanded that women of Abyei should also benefit from the 25% women representation in the South Sudan Government despite that Abyei remains a contested region between the Sudan and South Sudan

South Sudan: Is the Ministry of Water and Irrigation the Source of Deaths
As we all know, any accidents caused by a water carrier in Juba town leads to the loss of South Sudanese life! Who should shoulder the blame? We believe that the blame should be shouldered by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation,that has been silent 

South Sudan clashes: UN moves troops to Pibor
BBC News
The United Nations has moved a battalion of combat troops to the South Sudanesetown of Pibor to prevent an attack by the Lou Nuer ethnic group. Tens of thousands of people from the rival Murle group have fled the town in the last few hours, 
Six dead in Sudan chopper crash, fire: army
Sudan’s armed forces since June have been battling rebels further south in adjacent South Kordofan state, as well as in Blue Nile state. On Thursday South Sudan’smilitary spokesman said Sudanese air raids killed 17 people in the border state of 

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