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Retaliation: The Massacre of Dinka and Jur Civilians

The killing of unarmed Dinka and Jur men, women, and children after the defeat and withdrawal of Kerubino/SPLA forcesCand the withdrawal of the Dinka police who had protected Dinka and Jur civilians in Wau many times in the pastCwas extensive. Witnesses saw hundred of bodies on the streets, until the cleanup coinciding with the February 10 visit of Vice President Kongor took place.253 One reliable source said the Red Crescent buried three lorries full of bodies (each lorry large enough to carry eighty one hundred pound sacks of sorghum) in the ten days after January 29. The lorries reportedly took the bodies, believed to be mostly Dinka and Jur civilians, to three common graves.254 Two graves were said to be located at Meidaan Ajaaj and one not far from Nazareth (Toc). Bodies in an advanced state of decomposition were burned on the spot.255 Another report said that there were mass graves in the Marial Bai/Marial Ajith areas and that some bodies were seen dumped in the Jur River.0

Some of Tom al Nour=s Fertit militia, army, and mujahedeen were reportedly involved in the killing of civilians as they conducted house to house searches in the Dinka and Jur areas after the Kerubino/SPLA forces fled. The Nazareth quarter was hit hard: according to one report, all people found at home were killed.1

Civilians sought sanctuary in several locations, including the governor=s residence, the Wau Hospital, and the Catholic mission. All, except for the mission, reportedly were forcibly entered by government-aligned forces and those inside were killed on the spot.2

Word of the killings of the Dinka and Jur civilians who remained inside Wau began to circulate almost immediately after the government retook control of Wau. On Thursday January 29 at 4:00 p.m. a military plane from Khartoum landed at the Wau airport, circling for one hour before it landed. It stayed on the ground twenty to thirty minutes and was apparently used to evacuate some family members of government officials who came from the north. Rumors spread that the plane and another military plane that landed the following afternoon brought orders to "kill the Dinka."3

Shots were heard daily until Second Vice President George Kongor's arrival on February 10, 1998, after which there was only shooting at night.

The bodies burned or buried in mass graves were not believed to be rebel forces killed in action for a number of reasons. Rebel casualties were thought to be relatively light because they took the government forces by surprise, were in combat only a few hours, spent some of the time looting (without contact with government forces), and withdrew after the government started using its heavy artillery. One report claimed that witnesses reported twenty-five Kerubino soldiers killed, most around the Girinti base.4

The government claimed Ahundreds of rebels@ had been killed in the attack on Wau, in fighting lasting six hours.5 No one interviewed about the fighting on the rebel side mentioned significant rebel casualties.

The death toll on the government side is also unknown, although it claims it lost only four officers and nineteen noncommissioned officers and soldiers.6 The SPLA initially claimed it killed 768 government soldiers in the Wau offensive, a claim later raised to 968.7 It also acknowledged the capture of 108 government prisoners,8 a few of whom were seen in custody in rural Bahr El Ghazal.

The estimates of dead civilians ranged from 200 to 4,000,9 but only forensic exhumations of the common grave sites, and private and confidential interviews with survivors, witnesses, and family members of the Adisappeared@ will reveal the true death toll. One report made shortly after the killing gave the number of dead Dinka and Jur civilians as 400, many killed in the Nazareth neighborhood during house to house searches on January 29.10

Some Dinka, unaware of the gravity of the fighting or assuming they were exempt from retaliation because of their jobs, age, or illness, stayed in Wau. Some even went to the Arab market to shop on Friday morning January 30. According to a survivor interviewed by a reliable source, he and five other Dinka men were captured that day by mujahedeen in the market and forced to get into the bed of a pickup. The captives were all young Dinka men: tall, thin, and dark, with typical Dinka facial scarification (in the form of a chevron). The mujahedeen drove them to an area, Ginena, next to the river and near the cemetery Lokoloko. The mujahedeen ordered the captured men to get out of the truck, and shot and left them for dead there. Four were killed and two wounded; the two wounded men survived by playing dead. This survivor then hid in the house of a Fertit friend.11

Several Dinka butchers who went to work in the market as usual on that Friday reportedly were killed, among them Mathiang, from Yirol. His alleged killer was another butcher, who is believed to have collected several Dinka and killed them together.12

Three Dinka corpses were left out in the Arab market from Friday January 30 to Sunday February 1; on-lookers concluded that these corpses were left there to frighten others and keep them from looting the market. An Arab merchant was credited with saving ten Dinka street children captured in the Dinka market on January 30 from a group of men intent on killing them.13

On Saturday night January 31 there was shooting around the civilian hospital near the bridge; there were rumors that the SPLA was hiding there. Wau has two hospitals, one civilian and one military. On Sunday morning February 1 there was an exchange of heavy artillery fire, the first shelling coming from the Tonj (SPLA) side starting about 6:30 a.m.,14 adding to the tense situation.

On Sunday morning at about 10:00 a.m. government forcesCof army, militia, and mujahedeenCentered the civilian hospital. They captured two Dinka men who were nurses, both unarmed, and shot them; the nurses had not fled because they believed that they would be needed in the crisis. One, Abraham Wada, left three wives and five children.15

There were few patients in the hospital because most who could walk had already fled, but several Dinka patients who remained were killed in their hospital beds, according to different sources.16 By Monday February 2 there were only ten patients in the 560-bed hospital.17 The government ordered all remaining patients to be put in one ward and counted every morning. They would presume that any new patients were SPLA.18 By the end of February there were only seven or eight men in the civilian hospital with war wounds.19

Other Dinka who did not escape in time hid in the houses of Fertit friends; some 200 women and children took refuge in the compound of the Catholic mission.20 In the months that followed, some Dinka women reported that during late January-early February, AThe NIF killed our husbands. The NIF is responsible.@21

According to church officials in Nairobi, Atwenty people, including women and children, were massacred on 4th February when a group of armed Fertit militia went on a rampage in one of the suburbs in Wau town@ mainly occupied by Dinka.22 The militia attacked at 5 a.m., burning many people still asleep in their houses. The sources also reported arrests of southern police, prison guards, and game wardens, and of their detention and torture in unacknowledged detention centers, Aghost houses.@23

Added to the deliberate killings were deaths from indiscriminate attacks. Some nine hospital personnel and their families (including two children less than one year old) were killed while attending a Fertit funeral not far from the Agok Hospital for lepers (on the road to Tonj) on the night of February 8-9, 1998. For some time about fifty to seventy soldiers had been stationed at the hospital to deter the SPLA from its bimonthly practice of stealing from the lepers at the hospital, and using the lepers as porters to carry the loot across the river for the SPLA. The soldiers were not an effective deterrent since they would not confront the SPLA but only shot at them from afar. This time, the soldiers at the hospital shelled the other side of the river, where they apparently thought the SPLA was. The fourth of a series of shells fell short, some 300-500 meters from the soldiers= base, landing in the middle of the Fertit funeral, killing nine and wounding many more.24

The killing and disposal of bodies went on until Vice President George Kongor arrived in Wau, on or about February 10. Kongor saw eleven corpses in Wau that had not been buried and was upset, claiming in a public meeting with local officials that these were innocent civilians. At that meeting he is said to have started crying, saying, AYou should have killed me, and we among the Dinka who are involved in politics. Why did you kill innocent people?@ His listeners included some allegedly responsible for the killings, who said nothing. Kongor=s public statements apparently did not go beyond that one meeting, however.25

As before, no investigation was conducted by the government, and no one was punished for these gross abuses. It is not possible to tell how high up the chain of command the responsibility goes, but it is clear that the killing of civilians went on for ten days after the fighting ended, and no government forcesCarmy, security, militia, or otherC intervened to stop it.

The authorities appealed to those who had left to return to Wau. People who escaped in January said, "We can't go back to Wau. They will kill us."26 As it turned out, famine and muraheleen raiders killed them outside of Wau as well. That experience, described below, was so bad that perhaps 30 percent of those who fled returned to Wau within a few months, despite the risk.

253 Confidential preliminary report on Wau, March 1998.

254 Confidential report on Wau, April 1998.

255 Ibid.

0 Confidential preliminary report on Wau, March 1998.

1 Confidential report on Wau, April 1998.

2 Confidential preliminary report on Wau, March 1998.

3 Human Rights Watch interview, May 2, 1998.

4 Confidential preliminary report on Wau, March 1998.

5 Alfred Taban, "Sudan Says Government Ally Rejoins Rebels,@ Reuters, Khartoum, February 5, 1998.

6 "Army Spokesman on Wau Situation, Reports Second Rebel Attack in the East,@ Sudan TV, Omdurman, in Arabic, January 30, 1998, BBC Monitoring Service: Middle East, February 2, 1998; ASudanese army admits 23 men killed defending Wau,@ AFP, Khartoum, January 31, 1998.

7 "Sudan Rebels Claim Kill 768 Government Troops,@ Reuters, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 14, 1998; "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.

8 "Opposition Radio Says Battle for Wau Continuing. Several Areas Liberated,@ Voice of Sudan, Voice of the National Democratic Alliance, in Arabic, January 30, 1998, BBC Monitoring Summary of World Broadcasts, February 2, 1998; Bigg, ASudan Rebels Say Government Controls Wau Airport.@

9 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998.

10 Confidential report on Wau, April 1998.

11 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998.

12 Human Rights Watch interview, Wunrok, Bahr El Ghazal, May 8, 1998.

13 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.; Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 1, 1998.

17 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998; the capacity of the hospital was 560 beds, according to the WHO/UNICEF Mission. It found that in early June 1998 there were only 20 percent (112) of the beds in use, mainly by children.

18 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998.

19 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 1, 1998.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 New Sudan Council of Churches, Press Release, A20 Massacred in Wau Town,@ Nairobi, February 26, 1998. New Sudan Council of Churches is composed of Christian churches whose congregations are in rebel areas.

23 Ibid.

24 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998.

25 Confidential Report on Wau, April 1998. A former Wau civil servant volunteered that Kongor, a Dinka from Tonj, had been a good governor, the best Bahr El Ghazal ever had.

26 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998.

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