Dinka and Jur Shot While Fleeing Wau
Most of the civilian Dinka and Jur population that had not fled on January 28 left Wau on January 29 when the SPLA forces withdrew. The Belanda reportedly fled also, to their homeland southwest of Wau. The few senior Dinka police who remained in Wau were said to be disarmed despite their show of loyalty.232 About 65 percent (perhaps 78,000) of the total Wau population left then and in the next few weeks due to Aongoing internal insecurity,@ according to a U.N. estimate.233 Another source said that there were two main exoduses of civilians: one in the early morning of January 29, and another later that same day as the government counterattack erupted. Due to continuing violence, civilians kept leaving during the next week.234
One Dinka woman, the widow of a Dinka police officer who lived in the Hilla Jedid (Der Akok) told Human Rights Watch that she fled on the night of January 28-29. She was falling asleep when the shooting started at Girinti just to the north of this Dinka area. "People began running so I ran, too. I did not have a chance to collect anything. I stepped on people lying on the ground. I do not know if they were alive or dead. The jellaba [Arabs] were shooting from the ground near Girinti garrison."235 She did not see any Kerubino or SPLA troops as she fled with her grown son. They reached the other side of the Jur River east of Wau, near the bridge, when she was hit by a shell. Although she was in a very large crowd escaping from Wau, she said she was the only one injured by that shell.236
Early that morning, January 29, one eyewitness saw many people, mostly Dinka women with bundles on their heads, fleeing Hila Dinka from the direction of Girinti. This observer also saw three older Arab Muslim merchants in feast dress walking in the direction of a mosque for prayers. He guessed that the town must be in the hands of the government if these merchants were out praying, since they would be the first to escape if the SPLA took control.237
Another Dinka resident of Hilla Jedid left his house at 8:00 a.m. on January 29 and saw soldiers coming in his direction, shooting indiscriminately. He saw four cars carrying uniformed army soldiersCnorthernersCand heard bursts of fire from machine guns inside the cars on the main street leading from Girinti to the market. Some army soldiers got out to push or kick in doors. Four cars turned off from the main street into the deserted side streets of this neighborhood where they repeated this procedure. The witness immediately ran into the bush and crossed the Jur River, leaving everything behind.238
By morning the Dinka police had joined the SPLA/Kerubino forces in the defense, some of them trying to guard the escape of Dinka civilians across the Jur River.239 Some SPLA ran to the Dinka neighborhood of Nazareth to alert the civilians that they had lost, and the Dinka and Jur from that area also crossed over the river.240 One Dinka resident of Nazareth said of the Jur, "They crossed the river with us. They were regarded as enemies by the north, most of the Jur.@241
Another Dinka Nazareth resident heard rocket-propelled grenades being fired behind them as they fled. The only bridge over the Jur River is to the east of Nazareth, but those fleeing Wau that day avoided it because it was guarded by the army. They waded across the river; because it was the dry season the river was shallow, reaching only up to the knees of a man. This witness saw some PDF university students at a garrison at a poultry farm near the bridge. They were shooting at civilians crossing the river. "They were firing from hidden positions because some of the police escaping still had guns."242
Before he reached the Jur River, at a flat open area on the Wau side, four young women carrying bundles on their heads just ahead of him were hit by a rocket and fell down dead. "We had to jump over them. The rocket hit them a few meters ahead of us."243 Others were injured at the same time, between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m.; he did not know them.
A twenty-year-old Jur woman from the Nazareth neighborhood was injured and her thirteen-year-old sister was killed as they tried to cross the river at about the same time. From her house to the bridge took one hour to walk, but her family left everything and ran with the others because there was shooting and everyone was running outside. "I could not stay while the others were running away," she said. The shooting was heavy; it started at night and went on until morning. Many other people were running with them, all civilians; the street was full of people. She said, "The jellaba who were following us in a military tank" shot her in the back as she ran with her baby daughter in her arms. One minute later, before they reached the bridge, a mortar landed behind her thirteen-year-old sister, hitting her in both legs, and she died on the spot; the daughter was slightly injured by the same mortar. The twenty-year-old woman staggered on with the help of her mother and crossed the river.244
The combined rebel forces never succeeded in capturing the town of Wau nor the important Girinti military base. But the battle of press releases was on, the SPLA claiming it was in control of Wau and Aweil, the government disputing that.245 In hindsight and with the benefit of civilian testimonies, it appears the government version was more accurate, but its track record for veracity was such that few not affiliated with the government believed its account. Nor was the SPLA=s version trusted.
232 Human Rights Watch interview, Wunrok, Bahr El Ghazal, May 8, 1998.
233 WFP, Emergency Report No. 10 of 1998, March 6, 1998: Sudan.
234 Confidential preliminary report on Wau, March 1998.
235 Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, May 11, 1998.
237 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998.
238 Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, May 11, 1998.
240 Human Rights Watch interview, Wunrok, Bahr El Ghazal, May 8, 1998.
241 Ibid. The Jur in Wau live near the Umbili mission, in the Nazareth neighborhood with the Dinka, and in other locations east and west of the Jur River.
242 Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, May 11, 1998.
244 Human Rights Watch interview, Jur woman, Lokichokkio, May 11, 1998.
245 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998. Several who heard a radio broadcast of an SPLA announcement that it was still occupying Wau after January 29 commented that this broadcast was incorrect. Apparently the SPLA and Kerubino held on to Aweil longer than Wau, despite fierce resistance by the governor Kwac Makuei of the SSDF, who alleged later that he was the target of a June 1998 assassination attempt by government soldiers. See below and Appendix E.