The Dinka in Wau started an exodus from the town, bundles on their heads, as early as the morning of January 28. Rumors of imminent military action had spread, and the Dinka experience with army and Fertit militia attacks on them may have motivated their flight.212
The SPLA/Kerubino attack began around midnight, January 28-29, 1998, the time reportedly moved up from February 1 or 2 because Kerubino feared a government attack on January 29 at 4:00 a.m. According to the opposition Sudan Democratic Gazette, the military intelligence unit in Wau informed Khartoum on January 12, 1998 of Kerubino=s intention, together with the SPLA, to capture Wau using supplies provided by the government to the Adefectors.@A national security council meeting was reportedly convened in Khartoum on January 13, where a decision was made to confront and destroy the joint Kerubino/SPLA force at Marial Bai. A large military force was prepared at Babanusa, Western Kordofan, to travel down by railway and take Kerubino by surprise.213 Kerubino reportedly received news of this decision the next day, on January 14, according to the Sudan Democratic Gazette.214
One of the SPLA participants in the Trojan Horse plan, posing as a defector, said the defectors were visited by many NIF and government high-level delegations. They refused, however, to go to Khartoum, fearing detention. Before long the government army and NIF became suspicious and the defectors received intelligence that their cover had been blown and that the government planned on attacking them on February 1. The Kerubino/SPLA forces therefore made a preemptive strike against Wau on January 28, taking three-fours of the town (including the main garrison, according to him) but could not hold their positions against the government=s counterattack because the rebel reinforcements were not yet in place. They withdrew from Wau, taking captured military hardware, according to this participant.215
The Kerubino/SPLA attack started between 11:00 p.m. and midnight on January 28, according to another SPLA soldier who also participated in it. The fighting started at the Girinti army base north of Wau, and the combined forces attacked and captured government military barracks in Marial Bai, Getit, Amer, Bariar, Marial Agis, and Zagalona, according to a combatant who said he helped capture and occupy the Zagalona barracks.216 According to a noncombatant eyewitness, the garrison at the Wau Vocational Institute, the garrison near the Jur River bridge, and the central garrison were not taken.217 Government forces initially fled then regrouped, reportedly while the Kerubino and SPLA soldiers were stealing food.218
Another source said the fighting took place around the Girinti barracks for two hours, until about 2:00 a.m., and then moved north to the Mariel Ajith displaced camp and east to the Eastern Bank displaced camp (both inhabited by Dinka), and to Zagalona, a residential area in the southern part of Wau. Heavy artillery was heard in the north, consistent with a government attack on Marial Bai, the Kerubino stronghold.219
The parties fighting on the government side were the army and security forces, most of the PDF, and part of the Fertit militia. Wau residents also referred to mujahedeen (holy warriors), a generic term for those engaged in jihad (holy war) for Islam, as the PDF is exhorted to do. The line between mujahedeen and other forces is not always bright, and mujahedeen also may refer to fighting forces of the NIF party or security apparatus.
These government forces were outnumbered by the rebel forces, according to one SPLA source.220 Numbers remain elusive. Fighting on the rebel side were Kerubino's forces, the SPLA forces who had "defected" from the SPLA to Kerubino, and possibly other SPLA forces from outside Wau. Also joining in the fighting on the rebel side after the initial attack were Dinka police and game wardens, Dinka PDF members, and perhaps part of the Fertit militia (including possibly the Belanda). At the time, one noncombatant source estimated that Kerubino=s forces in Wau were about 5,000 and the SPLA had about 2,000 forces (Adefectors@), and was bringing in reinforcements.221
The SPLA later announced that 1,847 members of the police, prison guards, and game wardens in Wau crossed over to join them, as well as 426 members of the government=s armed forces.222 These defectors may safely be presumed to be almost entirely southerners, and a majority Dinka and Jur. Even a Dinka army officer with twenty-three years of service fled Wau with the rest, according to his son.223
Most of the fighting was in the northeastern and southern sections of Wau. The Fertit lived in the western part of Wau; not all the Fertit militia participated in the fighting in Wau, however.224 Many later commented to non-Fertit friends that they were "not going to let the government fool them as it did in 1987" when the Fertit militia attacked the Dinka in Wau. Therefore only part of the Fertit militia showed up to fight with Commander Tom Al Nour and the government forces. The others stayed in their area of Wau to defend their people, if needed. Many Fertit helped Dinka civilians escape or hid them in their houses after the fighting was over.225 One report said that two local Fertit commanders and their forces did not participate in the fighting: Nicol Akumba and Ali Janga.226
On the night of January 28, Wednesday, Wau residents heard heavy shelling from the direction of Girinti, the military base to the north, starting about midnight. There was also shelling near the airport and between the airport and the river. "It was very heavy, boom, boom, and shaking." 227 Those who were there had vivid descriptions of the fighting: one resident said, "The whole town was white by night; they were using flares."228 Others said the fighting was like "fire in the sky."229
At 6:00 a.m. on the morning of January 29, 1998, the Kerubino and SPLA commanders ordered their forces to evacuate Wau, according to one SPLA soldier in Zagalona barracks who received the order. He commented that no one knew why they were ordered to evacuate; the government forces had not recaptured Zagalona barracks.230 They withdrew, with Dinka police, prison guards, and game wardens, Dinka PDF members, and Dinka from the regular army. The Belanda militia were said to have fled Wau as well.231
212 This chapter draws on eyewitness and other accounts, including a confidential preliminary report on the fighting and subsequent massacre done by reliable sources for their institution in March 1998 and another confidential report on the same topic by a reliable source for his separate institution in April 1998. All concerned wanted the reports treated confidentially and therefore their authors must remain anonymous.
213 According to one source, it took about three weeks to organize this expedition. Confidential communication to Human Rights Watch, September 22, 1998.
214 "War and Politics: Kerubino Gives NIF A Run,@ Sudan Democratic Gazette, February 1998.
215 CSI, ACSI Visit to Northern Bahr El Ghazal, Sudan,@ September 5-10, 1998.
216 Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, May 10, 1998.
217 Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, May 11, 1998.
218 Confidential report on Wau, April 1998; Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, May 11, 1998.
219 Confidential preliminary report on Wau, March 1998. To our knowledge, no further report was issued by these authors, who must remain anonymous.
220 Human Rights Watch interview, Sudan, May 17, 1998.
221 Matthew Bigg, ASudan Rebels Say Government Controls Wau Airport,@ Reuters, Nairobi, January 31, 1998.
222 "Opposition Radio Reports Almost 1,000 Government Soldiers Killed in Wau,@ Voice of Sudan, Voice of the National Democratic Alliance, in Arabic, February 14, 1998, BBC Monitoring Service: Middle East, February 16, 1998. The announcement also stated that ten members of Warab state legislature and nine from Buheirat (Lakes) legislature joined the SPLM.
223 Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, May 11, 1998. Defection of southern police, prison guards, game wardens and even army officers to the rebel side during SPLA attacks on garrison towns is not unusual; it happened most notably in Juba during the 1992 SPLA attacks on that garrison town, the largest in the south.
225 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998.
226 Confidential preliminary report on Wau, March 1998.
227 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998.
228 Human Rights Watch interview, Wunrok, Bahr El Ghazal, May 8, 1998.
229 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 1, 1998.
230 Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, May 10, 1998.
231 Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, May 11, 1998.