Continued Muraheleen/PDF/Army Raiding and Enslavement of the Dinka
The flight ban was not the sole reason that inadequate relief reached the hungry. Muraheleen and PDF raids exacerbated the difficulties faced by displaced communities and blocked the efforts of relief agencies to assist them.
The effect of the raiding on the Dinka of Bahr El Ghazal has been reflected in many songs and statements.128 One song from 1998 said:
This is my home, the home of my father and my grandfather. Today old men and girls and women and young people, we hate ourselves in this place. We hate ourselves because our possessions, our cattle, our food stores are repeatedly destroyed by Arabs. We are enslaved. Take us, all of us, take us to your place so that we can live. We loathe ourselves.129
February-March 1998 Raids by Railway in Twic and Aweil Counties
A train carrying 1,000 Sudan army troops and 250 PDF (muraheleen) was stuck near Aweil in early February, on its way to reinforce Wau. The train was reportedly held up by the SPLA, who claimed to have captured Ariath, a small town on the railway near Aweil.
The SPLA was repelled and the train managed to break through. By late February-early March, the muraheleen and PDF transported on the train were raiding Twic and Aweil countries in Bahr El Ghazal. Communities faced repeated raids by those forces in areas such as Panthou (March 13 and May 14, 1998), Ajiep (April 15 and May 19, 1998), and Thiekthou (May 14, 1998).
Government troops were organized in many different locations to descend on Bahr El Ghazal. According to one informant, in El Daein, Southern Darfur, the minister of defense, the assistant governor of Southern Darfur, and Baggara Rizeigat leaders held a meeting on April 1, 1998, and formed and armed a defense force, equipped with transport from the army. The force was sent off to northern Bahr El Ghazal, and returned after three weeks with Dinka cattle, women, and children. The girls were divided up by the local merchants.130
Even the Dinka who had lived for some time as displaced persons in non-Dinka areas of Southern Darfur and Kordofan, far from the SPLA, were attacked by muraheleen, and their animals robbed. The result of these attacks was that many Dinka moved out of those areas to towns further northCBabanusa, Nyala, Nahud, El ObeidCcarrying stories of how their villages were attacked, destroyed, burned, and the children and girls taken as booty, with widespread rape.131
Muraheleen/PDF/Government Offensive in Bahr El Ghazal, April -June 1998
Aid agencies alerted the media to a major government of Sudan offensive in Bahr El Ghazal in May, including attacks on at least six relief centers. They said this offensive was a severe blow to their efforts to deliver relief food. The offensive was centered on Aweil, Gogrial, and Abyei counties, with forces arriving from two directions to pillage food and thousands of head of cattle, burn villages, and capture women and children. The SPLA claimed the offensive was in retaliation for rebel advances in other parts of Sudan, namely Upper Nile and Blue Nile.132
Local people said the raids began in Aweil county in April and spread over through late May into neighboring Twic county.133 An Episcopal (Anglican) priest visiting the area of Aweil County in late April 1998 encountered the rubble of former homesteads and the stories of an anguished people. They told him that in April military lorries bristling with soldiers rolled out of Aweil forcing a mass evacuation. People buried their possessions and returned a week later to find nothing had survived: not an uncharred grain of sorghum, nor a sleeping mat. Animals not looted were shot. Nine of Mairam=s villages were destroyed and further west at Ayaat, six were leveled, leaving nineteen dead. AThe worst carnage of those days occurred on the 6th of April north-west of Nyamlell at Akuangaruol where 59 people were killed, 40 carried into bondage, and 3,792 head of cattle looted.@134 The International Rescue Committee reported that the hospital it ran in Marial Bai in Aweil County (west of Nyamlell) was attacked by government militia in late April, and all thirty-nine patients were killed.135 An official from Medics in Action said they believed "200 people were killed in Nyamlell in the last two weeks [of May 1998], and we have a list of 280 women and children who were abducted by government forces."136
Another journalist reported that the town of Nyamlell was sacked by invaders. ASome of their victims lie half buried near the piles of horse dung that mark the spot where the Arabs made their camp. They stayed a week, rounding up the cattle and goats, raping the young women and shooting older ones in the feet . . . . in [Marial] Bai, a local man . . . told me his wife and five children had been abducted by the horse backed invaders.@137
A few days later, the elders were making a list of the dead in a fifty-mile arc from southeast of Abyei to Mayen Abun: 400 were counted as of June 3. What made this raid different from the seasonal raids by the muraheleen was that this time convoys of government vehicles transported into the garrison towns of Abyei and Gogrial reinforcements and weapons to be used for the raids, indicating a high level of planning and participation by the central government.138
Indeed, in late May a local government official of South Darfur broadcast his triumphs to a Khartoum newspaper, saying that more than 10,000 horsemen of the Rizeigat (Baggara) tribe, to whom he referred as "our 'knights,'" supported by the army, destroyed Nyamlell and Marial Bai (Aweil County) and other "rebel" camps in northern Bahr El Ghazal, defeating the SPLA and taking back 17,000 head of cattle and 20,000 goats. He claimed this was in retaliation for rebel attacks and rustling the month before.139
According to a church source, churches were prime targets of these attacks, with some twenty-three houses of worship burned by the raiders in the early months of 1998.140
Relief workers were eyewitnesses to the destruction in Twic County (Wunrok and Turalei). One described the scene at the market town of Abindau, a week after the attack. "'Bodies were burnt in the houses and corpses were scattered all over, in the water holes, floating in the river . . . . I couldn't count them,'" said Dan Eiffe of Norwegian People's Aid.141 Local people who were captured in these raids were taken to Abyei, if they survived the march, ninety-five kilometers to the north; some who escaped told of seeing 400 captives from these raids held in one place.142 The government admitted that it launched a counteroffensive to retake areas the SPLA took in 1997; 143 Wunrok was captured by the SPLA in May 1997.
A delegation of Christian Solidarity International also visited Aweng (Twic County) shortly after the May 10 raid:
The devastation was there for us to see. They attacked the market at [Abindau], outside Aweng. They surrounded it, and killed everyone they could. I have seen the corpses. In one morning alone 120 bodies have been found. Hundreds more are missing. . . . Some [corpses] are in the swamps. . . . just lying there. A lot are in the River Lol, just floating. These are women and children, and people who have tried to escape to the bush, but were followed, hunted down, and slaughtered. I came across corpse after corpse, still all with their bracelets and bangles on.144
Human Rights Watch visited Wunrok shortly before a raid. The displaced population that was in Wunrok, like the displaced in other parts of Bahr El Ghazal, had been on the move for a long time; some had been displaced many years before.
During the visit, an unusual noise caused a stampede of mothers and children lined up to register at the impromptu feeding center set up by GOAL under a large tree. Within three minutes, the center was deserted as the women, grabbing their children, ran for their lives, spreading out away from the noise. When it was clear that this was a false alarm, people returned. The alacrity of their flight, however, demonstrated that they were used to being attacked and had honed the survival skill of running fast at the least sign of trouble.
Honed, but not perfected. This market at Wunrok was attacked by the muraheleen and PDF only a few days later, according to a GOAL team that returned to their feeding program there a few weeks later. Instead of the under five year olds they weighed and measured for signs of malnutrition, they found bodies and wounded children, burned huts, and deserted towns. A massacre had occurred there.145
A visit by journalists in late May to Turalei (the most northerly part of southern Sudan controlled by the SPLA) in Twic County, northeast of Wunrok, found a completely deserted area where there was a functioning emergency feeding center two weeks earlier, in mid-May. Proceeding to Wunrok, they found civilians who said that the muraheleen horsemen and government PDF had descended in large numbers on the area between May 4-17, and, finding it empty of SPLA fighters, killed men and burned their homes at will, abducting hundreds of women and children. The journalists investigated and found that in the Aweng administrative center all villages had been burned and abandoned, and dead bodies were scattered all over the ground at the cattle camps. At Abindau between Turalei and Wunrok, the market was burned to the ground and bodies strewn everywhere, even in the water hole. Terrified survivors were found hiding in the water of the swamps northeast of Aweng, including children with bullet wounds who screamed in terror at the journalists= approach, fearing they were raiders.146 Separately, another journalist saw the remains of the carnage in Aweng.147
A day before a June militia attack on Maper (Twic County), WFP workers distributed airdropped food to 1,800 women. Food for another 1,800 families was scheduled to be distributed the next day, but shots fired in the distance sent the waiting women and aid workers into a panic, fleeing and abandoning sixty MT of bagged corn. The women grabbed their children and ran. Aid workers, a journalist, and the few SPLA soldiers present jumped into a truck and headed to Turalei. People could be seen chasing their cattle into the bush to hide them from the raiders.
When the aid workers returned to Maper a few weeks later, all they found were rotting corpses draped across the charred remains of 110-pound sacks of corn.148 The WFP said that the attackers looted the relief food in Maper and set fire to what they could not carry away, throwing their victims= bodies on the burning pile of food.149 That week alone, WFP pulled four of its eleven teams out of southern Sudan after threats of attacks.150
Warab State Dinka Stripped of Cattle, Children Taken as Slaves
In Warab state, on May 14, 1998 the muraheleen (described by their victims as "Arabs from Wau") attacked a cattle camp belonging to the villages of Abok, perhaps twenty-five kilometers northwest of Thiet. The cattle camp was on a river about two days= hard walk from Abok. There were an estimated 10,000 cattle at the camp; the adolescents and young people watched their family=s cattle, as is customary.
The raiders came from north and south at the same time. They were on horseback; one survivor estimated there were 120 horses, each carrying two or three men. Others advanced on foot. The raiders first attacked the cattle camps by the river, taking the approximately 10,000 cattle there.
When word reached Abok of the raid one or two days later, the adults armed themselves and rushed to the campCtwo days away. By the time they arrived, it was too late. Some 510 children who were in the cattle camp watching the cattle were abducted, according to the elders who tallied up the losses. Other children tried to escape and were shot or drowned in the river; at least thirty bodies were counted.
This community was devastated by the losses. Everyone lost children and cows: one man had five children abducted and seventy-eight cows looted; another three sons and all 120 cows; another seven children (four boys and three girls) and forty-five cows; another had three children abducted, two drowned, one wife killed, and fifty cattle stolen. Since the raid, community leaders said, seventy-eight died of hunger and grief.
Two young men who were captured managed to escape and run back. One told a researcher that the older captives had been tied up and the whole group marched en route to Wau for two days. Two boys who tried to escape were shot dead. Each captive was the property of his captor and his captor's subclan.
On the third day, this young man took advantage of an argument among the muraheleen over the cattle, and escaped. Upon hearing his account, many parents went to Wau to look for their children.151
In the opinion of some analysts, this fighting is not the product of retaliatory raids, but the result of a Sudan government strategic campaign to secure the oil fields around Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, and the pasture land of northern Bahr El Ghazal to the west of the oil fields. Having broken their 1990s grazing rights agreements with the Dinka, with government encouragement, the Baggara were to devastate and depopulate northern Bahr El Ghazal and then to be given free access to the land between the Bahr Al Arab (Kir) River and the Lol River, with its good pasture and water. The government=s plan according to this analysis was for the Arab tribes to drive the Dinka remnants over the Lol River and eastwards into Nuer territory, where they would be wiped out by Nuer militias aligned with the government. What prevented this was an SPLA victory over the muraheleen horsemen at Warawar in eastern Aweil, according to one source. The muraheleen then withdrew to Abyei.152
128 For more testimonies of former slaves, see Christian Solidarity International, ACSI Visit to Northern Bahr El Ghazal, Sudan (focusing on Slavery, Arab-Dinka Relations, Kerubino & the SPLA, Humanitarian Aid & Religious Persecution), Binz, Switzerland, September 5-10, 1998. CSI has published many testimonies of former slaves and is engaged in a slave redemption program through which it has redeemed some 3,000 slaves since 1995. Ibid. The program is somewhat controversial on the grounds that foreign purchasers may raise the market price of redemption without being able to redeem all available slaves.
129 Yaai Deng Yaai from Mariam, Western Aweil, Bahr El Ghazal, May 1998, quoted by Episcopalian priest Marc Nikkel in Letter no. 12, May 31, 1998 (c/o CMS, PO Box 40360, Nairobi). See Marc Nikkel, A>Children of Our Fathers= Divinities= or >Children of Red Foreigners?=> Themes in Missionary History and the Rise of an Indigenous Church among the Jieng Bor of Southern Sudan, ed. Andrew Wheeler, Land of Promise: Church Growth in a Sudan at War(Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1997).
130 Anonymous Diary, April to June 1998.
132 Rosalind Russell, "Sudan army advance threatens aid efforts - agencies," Reuters, Nairobi, May 19, 1998.
133 Corinne Dufka, "Fighting, poor roads hamper Sudan food aid," Reuters, Bahr El Ghazal, southern Sudan, May 30, 1998.
134 Marc Nikkel, Letter no. 12, May 31, 1998.
135 Dufka, "Fighting, poor roads.@
137 Paul Cullen, AHunger and war driving Sudanese Towards Abyss,@ Bahr El Ghazal, Southern Sudan, Irish Times (Dublin), June 2, 1998.
138 Louise Tunbridge, ASudan raid survivors creep out from the swamps,@ Daily Telegraph (London), Aweng, Southern Sudan, June 4, 1998.
139 "Tribal 'knights' wreck Sudanese rebel camps, recover livestock," AFP, Khartoum, May 29, 1998, quoting Commissioner Kamal Sidahmed of Al Diein [Al Daien], South Darfur, in the Khartoum newspaper Akhbar al-Youn.
140 Names of churches, their denominations, and dates of destruction are reported in Marc Nikkel Letter no. 12, May 31, 1998.
141 Rosalind Russell, "Aid workers say Sudan cavalry torch rebel villages," Reuters, Nairobi, May 22, 1998.
144 Caroline Davies, "Khartoum's 'holy war' against Christians turns into bloody genocide," Daily Telegraph (London), May 26, 1998.
145 Peter Beaumont, AHe=s Just One in a Million,@ Observer (London), May 31, 1998.
146 AHorrific massacre Report in Southern Sudan,@ AANA, Nairobi, June 1, 1998.
147 David Orr, ARaiders Sow Terror on Sudan Front Line,@ Times (London), June 2, 1998.
148 Louis Meixler, AFood a key weapon in Sudan civil war,@ AP, Maper, Sudan, August 5, 1998.
149 WFP, Press Release, AWFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini calls on international community to help end fighting in southern Sudan,@ New York, July 10, 1998.
150 Meixler, AFood a key weapon in Sudan civil war.@
151 Interviews by Jeff Drumtra, U.S. Committee for Refugees, Abok, Warab state, Sudan, June 21, 1998.
152 "War and Politics: NIF Regime=s Forces Fail to Control Northern Bahr El Ghazal,@ Sudan Democratic Gazette (London), Year IX, No. 98, July 1998, p. 2.