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Two Pro-Government Militias Fight Over the Oil Fields, Causing Famine

The oil fields in Western Upper Nile are crucial to the government=s hopes for economic recovery. In 1998, construction was completed on the pipeline to carry the crude to refineries in the north59Cjust such a scheme as in the early 1980s provoked strong protests by southerners.60

Indeed, the SPLA regards the oil exploration as one of the reasons for the present war. An SPLA spokesperson said, AThe National Islamic Front government is trying to exploit the oil to strengthen its grip of domination over the Sudanese people. The oil fields remain a legitimate military target, and we will seek every possible way to deny the NIF=s exploitation of the resources . . . for its own ideological purposes.@61 The NDA confirmed that its leadership decided to consider companies operating in oil and gold extraction to be legitimate military targets.62

A consortium including Malaysian, Canadian, British, Argentinean, German, and Chinese companies is responsible for the $1.6 billion oil development scheme.63 Energy and Mining Minister Awad Jazz said that the country would be self-sufficient in oil in 1999, saving some $450 million a year in oil import bills.64 The pipeline from Unity field to a new terminal to be built at Port Sudan on the Red Sea would have an initial capacity of 150,000 barrels per day, to be expanded to 250,000 bbl/d by 2002.65

That this fabulous potential for oil wealth exists side by side with a famine that affects more than 150,000 people in Western Upper Nile is no accident. It is the consequence of government desire to establish control over the area by using militiasCsince 1983Cto loot and attack and displace the local population. The 1998 Western Upper Nile famine has been largely the product of unrestrained attacks on the civilian population by two pro-government militias, both headed by Nuer commanders. One is the SSDF, termed an army rather than a militia, which is supposed to incorporate all former SPLA fighters and factions who switched their allegiance to the government, and incorporate other southern pro-government militias that were never rebels. The SSDF is headed by Riek Machar, the chairman of the South Sudan Coordinating Council, the government body established to govern the government-controlled areas of the south.

The other militia involved in the fighting in Western Upper Nile is that belonging to Paulino Matiep, an Anyanya II commander of a Nuer militia based around Bentiu, who joined Riek=s forces in 1992 after Riek had parted company with the SPLA and its leader, John Garang.

The fighting between the two forces was over political and military control of Unity state and the oil fields. A side effect of this struggle has been to displace more civilians from the oil-rich areas.

Background to Oil Development in Southern Sudan

Oil has been an important element in north-south relations since the Bentiu oil field was discovered in 1978, when Nimeiri was president and the Addis Ababa autonomy agreement for the south that settled the first civil war was in effect (1972 - 83). Following the discovery, the central government took several measures which southerners believed were intended to cheat them of benefits of the southern oil wealth to which they were entitled under the Addis Adaba agreement.

One change that raised southern suspicions in 1978 was the rapid replacement of 130 southern soldiers in the Bentiu military garrison, commanded by a Dinka army officer, Captain Salva Kiir,66 with 600 soldiers from the north, as if to assert physical control over the potential oil fields, according to a leading southern politician who witnessed these events.67 In 1980 a second oil field was discovered in the Bentiu Area Council two hours by vehicle north of Bentiu; it was given the Arabic name of Heglig (thorn tree), and to southerners that was another attempt to assert northern control over southern assets. In that same year, officials in Khartoum tried to transfer the rich oil, agricultural, and grazing lands of Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal to the northern province of Southern Kordofan merely by redrawing the map. Southerners protested in the streets, a commission was appointed, and President Nimeiri accepted its recommendation to stay with the 1956 boundaries, leaving the oil fields in the southern mostly Nuer province of Upper Nile.68

Paulino Matiep=s Warlord Role vis-a-vis the Oil Fields

Paulino Matiep, a Bul Nuer from Bentiu, has been a militia power in Western Upper Nile for at least two decades. The Bul Nuer area of Western Upper Nile, according to a scholar of the Nuer, was Ahistorically one of the most isolated and economically >underdeveloped= Nuer regions.@69 The Heglig oilfield, however, is in the Bul Nuer area. Paulino was never in the SPLA under its commander John Garang, but was a warlord who has since about 1984 been affiliated with the Khartoum government, which supplied his arms. Although the first civil war was settled in 1972 with a regional autonomy agreement for the south, local disputes in Upper Nile (and Bahr El Ghazal70) in the late 1970s and early 1980s led to the formation of a number of anti-government guerrilla groups all calling themselves Anyanya II, after Anyanya, the southern separatist rebel movement that fought the government in the first civil war from 1955-72.71 Paulino formed an Anyanya II militia in 1978 in Bilpam, Ethiopia, according to one of his soldiers.72

Pursuant to the Nimeiri government=s militia strategy, according to a reliable source, the ABentiu area, with the richest oil reserves, was where the initial [Misseriya, Baggara Arabs] raiding had been concentrated.@73 In late 1984, the Eastern Jikany Nuer and the Lek Nuer of the Bentiu area were overrun by a Misseriya militia armed with machineguns by the central government.74 According to a well-informed anthropologist, the muraheleen of the Misseriya were Ainstructed to clear the oil-rich lands of Western Upper Nile of its Nilotic inhabitants. . . . These traumas were soon compounded by massive air bombardments, extensive slave and cattle raids, encroaching rinderpest epidemics, and, ultimately, unprecedented famine.@75 Many Nuer were forced from their homes, their herds steadily decimated, and their families and communities increasingly split apart and destroyed.76

This was in part a response to pressure on the central government to provide adequate security so that the work of Chevron Oil Company in the Bentiu oil fields could recommence after a February 1984 SPLA attack caused its suspension. Among other things, President Nimeiri began to negotiate with the Nuer leaders of Anyanya II in the Bentiu area, who were in a dispute with the SPLA. A government cease-fire agreement was reached with some Anyanya II groups, including Paulino=s, and they were armed and equipped by the Sudan army, with whom they worked in close collaboration after that.77

From 1984 to 1987, another primary function of Anyanya II was to attack SPLA Dinka recruits moving from Bahr El Ghazal through Western Upper Nile to training camps in Ethiopia. In those years Ananya II was described as Aone of the most serious military obstacles to the supremacy of the SPLA in Upper Nile.@78

Meanwhile, on January 1, 1986, the Anyanya II commander Gordon Kong (a Jikany Nuer) defected to the SPLA with the bulk of the Anyanya II army.79 In 1987 and 1988 a partial truce was negotiated between SPLA forces in the region and various Baggara Arab communities in neighboring southern Kordofan.80 By late 1987, the SPLA had wooed back most of the Anyanya II leaders, with the exception of Paulino=s group and a few others. It appears that one reason Paulino=s group did not join the SPLA with other Anyanya II groups was that the SPLA wanted to withdraw the Bul Nuer units from their home area for a period of training in Ethiopia,81 leaving their civilian populationCwho had suffered from Misseriya militia raidsCunprotected.

Paulino Matiep assumed command of the remnants of Anyanya II after Gordon Kong switched his allegiance to the SPLA. By 1988, this was a small, fragmented, and weak force which suffered persistent and regular desertions to the SPLA ranks, while Paulino spent most of his time that year in Khartoum for prolonged medical treatment for a variety of disorders.

In September 1988 the Anyanya II battalion in Mayom, Western Upper Nile, his center of military power, rebelled and joined the SPLA.82 Riek Machar, then SPLA zonal commander of Western Upper Nile, participated in the capture of Mayom.

The government sent Omar El Bashir, then an army officer and later the 1989 leader of the coup d=etat that brought the NIF to power, to recapture Mayom from the SPLA. Bashir and Paulino fought together, and pushed Riek out of Mayom shortly thereafter, forging a strong bond in the process. Paulino later recommended Paul Lilly, also a Bul Nuer, for a position with the government.83

A historian of the Nuer notes that Anyanya II never had substantial support throughout the Nuer, and argues that many of its recruits were motivated by outstanding feuds with those Nuer who were recruited by the SPLA. AWhile an Anyanya II >politburo= continued to reside in Khartoum, and some Nuer militiamen around Bentiu, Malakal, New Fangak, and Abyei continued to be supported by the government, the main force of the Anyanya II was absorbed into the SPLA.@84

Paulino and Riek Join Forces (later SSIM/A) in 1992

Riek Machar left the SPLA and formed what became the SSIM/A in 1991, and Paulino joined Riek's forces in 1992. The unification of all outstanding forces of the Anyanya II army with Riek=s faction was accomplished through the negotiations of Nuer prophets Wutnyang Gatakek85 and Ruel Kuic.86 According to a representative of Riek=s 1998 government-aligned political group, the UDSF, the extent of Paulino=s military efforts against the Sudan government were attacks on some government barges;87 for the most part, SSIA fought the SPLA, not the government, so Paulino=s incorporation into the SSIA and abandonment of his friend Bashir (by then president of Sudan) is not as contradictory as it seems.

After the SSIM/A conference in Akobo in October 1994 Paulino was made acting SSIM governor of the area around Bentiu, based in Mankien. When Riek Machar signed the Political Charter in 1996 and the Peace Agreement in 1997, Paulino went with him into the alliance with the government, although Paulino was not a signatory to either document. It appears that, even in their current association with the government, Paulino=s Anyanya II has not sent troops to fight on other government fronts (such as Damazien or Juba), preferring to remain as a home guard, according to one of Paulino=s long-term soldiers. They were needed, among other things, to defend the Nuer against cattle raiding by the muraheleen, which continued even in 1998, despite truces.88 They were also needed to guard the oil fields.

Paulino and Riek: Fighting in 1997-98

After the Peace Agreement, and prior to the elections for southern governors in late 1997, the areas controlled by the SSIM/A and the government garrison towns located in them were combined politically. Thus, parallel political posts such as governor were combined. In Unity state, this meant that the government town of Bentiu was combined with the SSIM/A territory surrounding it to form one Unity state with one appointed governor, Paulino Matiep. Paulino, however, fell ill again and went back and forth between Bentiu and Khartoum. In his absence, the deputy governor, Simon Jok Gatwech, was acting governor until he too fell ill. Tito Biel, a military commander, became deputy governor and then acting governor.

After the decision was made to permit elections for southern governors in late 1997, President Bashir dismissed all the sitting (appointed) governors. In preparation for the election, Tito Biel was named acting governor and Paulino was removed as governor by the central government.

Paulino Matiep was not among the three candidates for governor chosen by Riek Machar and President Bashir for Unity state in late 1997. According to Riek=s spokesman, Paulino did not declare himself for the position because he spoke neither Arabic nor English.89 Paulino supported Paul Lilly, who had been governor of the government-held garrison town of Bentiu and was a NIF adherent. Riek supported his SSIM/A colleague, Taban Deng Gai for governor.

In preparation for the electoral campaign, agents of Taban Deng were sent to Unity state to mobilize his followers. Paulino, according to Riek supporters, arrested these agents and detained them at his headquarters in Mankien, preventing them from campaigning. Tito, as acting governor, ordered SSDF soldiers to secure the release of these detainees, on the grounds that Paulino, who was no longer governor, had no authority to detain anyone. Tito=s SSDF forces clashed with Paulino=s men outside Mankien in 1997, and they fought until the beginning of 1998, with Ler changing hands several times.90 In this fighting, the hospital run by an Italian nongovernmental organization, Coordinating Committee for Voluntary Service (COSV), in Nhialdu was burned down.91 They clashed in December along a front line west of and close to Duar, and along the Nhial Dhui-Wichok-Turkey-Kwoic corridor, with Paulino west of the line and Tito east.92 Paulino was finally prevailed upon by Riek and Nuer elders to release the electoral agents.93

Taban Deng Gai was elected governor of Unity state in early December 1997. Paulino=s dissatisfaction with the election results was said to have led to another round of fighting between Paulino and Tito, by then the SSDF commander of the area. One news article reported that the government prevented Paulino from leaving Khartoum to rejoin his forces in a bid to calm down the situation, but that did not work. According to this article, some 200 Nuer fighters were killed in pitched battles in January 1998.94

According to Riek Machar, however, only thirty-eight people were killed in more than a week of clashes in January 1998. The troops on both sides, all purportedly members of the SSDF which Riek heads, had been guarding the oil concession. According to Riek, the fighting was over the governorship.95 The SPLA broadcast an offer of help to Paulino,96 which apparently was ignored. The SPLA offered its own version of the fighting: it said Paulino=s troops had attacked the oil installations in a dispute over the elections and the issue of oil revenues. The SPLA further claimed that some of the rebel troops that Aexpelled@ Chevron in 1984 were now working under Paulino.97

Riek Machar complained to President Bashir in a mid-1998 letter that since September 17, 1997, Unity state had been Athe theatre of a criminal war. Paulino Matip is waging an aggressive and destructive war against the [SSDF] and innocent civilians resulting in the destruction of homes, property and services infrastructures.@98 He noted that Paulino was supplied directly by the government with large quantities of arms and other military equipment,99 and expressed astonishment that the government would back Paulino to fight against the governmentally-sanctioned official army of the south, the SSDF:

To my great surprise I was informed recently [mid-1998] by the Minister of Defense that in fact Paulino Matiep is a General in the Sudan army and enjoys all the rights and privileges of a General. If this is the case, the question to be asked is, in whose interest does the Sudan army fight against the SSDF which is its ally. It would have been understandable for Paulino to defect from the SSDF to join Garang=s movement. But we cannot understand why Paulino defects from the SSDF to join the Sudan army and then turns into an enemy of the SSDF and to fight it with the military resources of the Sudanese state to which we all belong . . . .100

Paulino created his own faction, the South Sudan Unity Movement/Army (SSUM/A), apart from Riek=s SSDF, and reportedly received a letter from President Bashir recognizing this entity.101 According to many sources, the government sought to make Paulino into a counterbalance to Riek Machar, a role that Kerubino had played before his defection.102 Riek supporters suspected that the government was motivated by a desire to push Riek out of the oil fields. They feared that the Khartoum government hoped to delay matters and divide southerners so that the self-determination referendum would fail and Khartoum north would not be blamed for it.

Riek said that Paulino destroyed one general and three specialized kala azar hospitals, valued at $350 million. Paulino also stole cattle, and burned and destroyed villages and school buildings and the headquarters of the Ler district, according to Riek.

One of the most disappointing aspect[s] of this situation is that the victims of this senseless destruction are the very people who have been singing and praising the new era of peace ushered in by the Khartoum Agreement. Now their reward is the destruction of their lives and property.103

Riek also complained that the army had apparently rejected the formation of the SSDF as the military force in the south, judging from its financing and backing of Paulino and its Arepeated refusal . . . to supply the SSDF with ammunition, weapons, uniforms and other military materials to the degree that the SSDF has become unable to maintain security and stability or protect the peace agreement.@104

Riek pointed out that if the responsibility for security was not fully handed to the South Sudan Coordinating Council (SSCC) and the governors of the southern states, the Peace Agreement as a whole Awill be threatened and will be rendered empty of its content and therefore meaningless.@