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Looting and Pillaging by Government Forces

Wau residents who circulated around Wau after the fighting, including on January 29, and visitors to Wau in the next few months remarked that the four Dinka areas were totally empty of people and some houses or huts in these neighborhoods, where most had thatched roofs, were burned. All were looted.27 This looting and pillage was done primarily by government forces; the Kerubino/SPLA forces, routed and retreating on the morning of January 29, had looted but could carry little with them.

One eyewitness in early February saw that the Dinka market in Nazareth was burned and soldiers were carrying furniture piled up on wheelbarrows from the houses in that quarter.28 Indeed, the looting continued for several weeks, and another witness observed in late February that three soldiers were carrying away beds from houses in the same Dinka neighborhood.29 Looted goods flooded the Wau markets, at bargain prices.30

In addition to the Dinka neighborhoods, several other locations were looted, including the offices of the WFP, UNICEF, and the Sudan Council of Churches, all of whose personnel had been evacuated before the attack. The government listed as Aevidence@ of a foreign conspiracy the withdrawal from Wau, a few days before the attack, of foreign and local staff working for the U.N. and nongovernmental organizations,31 and it appears that these offices may have been subjected to retaliatory looting as a result. The U.N. denied foreknowledge of the January attack. However, it had been concerned about security in Wau town for some time; it decided in June 1997, shortly after the fall of Tonj, Rumbek, and Yirol to the SPLA, that Wau could no longer be considered a family duty station; this was not the first time such a decision was taken. U.N. employees, including Sudanese staff, had to relocate their families elsewhere as of that month.32 The U.N. evacuated staff on January 16, 1998, to attend a workshop in Khartoum.33 Sending everyone Cincluding local staffCto one workshop at the same time was unusual, according to one Wau resident,34 but since Wau was awash with armed groups and rumors of impending attacks, withdrawal of staff from Wau could more readily be interpreted as prudence than conspiracy.

Apparently the government interpreted agencies= remaining in Wau as a sign of solidarity, and leaving (even to Khartoum) as a sign of disloyalty. Government soldiers reportedly took trucks to the compounds of the three agencies whose staff leftCSCC, UNICEF, and WFPCand removed everything, leaving not even one chair.35 (The offices whose personnel remained in Wau were not looted, except for a primary school run by the Catholic Church.) When the U.N. conducted an assessment mission to Wau in late February 1998 to determine whether among other things it was safe to return, local officials claimed that the looting was the work of "gangsters."36

27 Looting or pillage is forbidden in IV Geneva Convention of 1949, art. 33, and in Protocol II of 1977 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, art. 2 (g). The prohibition on pillage is an old principle of international law. It is general in scope and concerns not only pillage through individual acts without the consent of the military authorities, but also organized pillage as conducted in former wars, when the booty allocated to each soldier was considered as part of his pay. Jean S. Pictet, ed., Commentary, IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1958), p. 226.

To pillage is defined as Ato rob, plunder, or sack, as in war; to take possession of, to carry off as booty; to rob with open violence.@

To loot is Ato rob, sack, or carry off as booty.@ The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971).

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

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

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

31 "Government Official Links Attack on Wau with Foreign Conspiracy,@ SUNA News Agency, Khartoum, in English, February 7, 1998, BBC Monitoring Service: Middle East, February 10, 1998.

32 Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, May 11, 1998.

33 Ibid.

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

35 Ibid.

36 Gov. Charles Julu repeated the government=s line that Agangsters@ looted the Dinka quarters. Arop Madut, AGovernor Julu Speaks About the January Rebels,@ Sudanow, Khartoum, April 1998, pp. 18-19.

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