HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH "Crises in Sudan and Northern Uganda"
Testimony of Jemera Rone, Human Rights Watch Before the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights and the Subcommittee on Africa July 29, 1998
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The Famine In Western Upper Nile, Government-Controlled Southern Sudan

There are about 1.2 million people in government-controlled areas of southern Sudan said to be at risk of famine. These people include those living in the garrison towns of Wau, Aweil and Gogrial mentioned above, and people living in Western Upper Nile, who are mostly Nuer, the second-largest tribe in southern Sudan and distant cousins of the Dinka.

Those in Western Upper Nile are at risk of famine because of fighting between two government-supported forces, both of them Nuer: the Southern Sudan Defense Forces (SSDF) forces led by Riek Machar, chairman of the Southern Sudan Coordinating Council (a body set up pursuant to a 1997 peace agreement between the government and Machar and other former SPLA leaders), and the forces of Paulino Matiep, a Nuer leader who was never in the SPLA but always with the government, and who joined Machar's forces in the mid-1990s. Paulino's forces, now seceded from Machar's SSDF, are called the South Sudan Unity Army (SSUA). The two forces are drawn from different sections or subtribes of the Nuer.

They have engaged in scorched-earth campaigns in the territory of the other, looting cattle and grain, burning homes and facilities such as clinics and feeding centers, and killing civilians. Many U.N. and NGO staff have had to flee or be evacuated because of these rapid strikes, disrupting efforts to contain the food crisis.

The dispute is ostensibly over the "election" in December 1997 of a governor for Unity (Al Wihda) State in Western Upper Nile where rich oil resources are located, and where thousands of Chinese laborers are now building a pipeline to take the oil to northern refineries, a sore point with the south even before the civil war started. The candidate backed by Riek Machar won the gubernatorial race and Paulino, unsatisfied with the result, took military action. The electorate was composed of less than forty electors, all local government officials, mostly selected by the central government.

Many believe that part of the conflict is attributable to the Sudan government's recent provision of military supplies to Paulino, so he could serve as a counterbalance to Riek's forces. Prior to Kerubino's defection from the government side back to the SPLA in January 1998, Kerubino had apparently served as the military and political counterbalance to Riek.

The government now has declared that the two sides in the fighting have agreed to a truce, but the damage to civilian goods and infrastructure, and the delay in planting, cannot be reversed. Several hundred thousand Nuer civilians are at risk of famine as a result. Many have been displaced and fled north to the Nuba Mountains and Western Kordofan.

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July 1998

Human Rights Watch