Kerubino, a founder of the SPLA, was held by SPLA Commander-in-Chief John Garang in prolonged arbitrary detention from 1987 to 1992, for allegedly having plotted a coup against Garang.3 He, his deputy Faustino Atem Gualdit, Arok Thon Arok,4 and other former SPLA commanders escaped south to Uganda in late 1992, where they eventually were recognized as refugees. They made their way to Kenya where they joined an SPLA breakaway faction formed in 1991 and headed by former SPLA Commander Riek Machar, a movement later called the South Sudan Independence Movement/Army (SSIM/A).5
Kerubino proceeded to recruit followers from among his own Dinka of Bahr El Ghazal (he was born in Paywayi in Bahr El Ghazal and went to school in nearby Gogrial6) and formed a separate fighting force based close to the government garrison town, Gogrial. His alliance with the government of Sudan dated from 1994; he was expelled by Riek Machar from his rebel force (then SSIM/A) in January 1995 for that reason.7 From 1994-97, he fought the SPLA, but mainly inflicted substantial damage on his own people in Twic, Abyei, and Gogrial counties, parts of Aweil East, and south into Wau County, all in Bahr El Ghazal. While the SPLA had support from local Dinka chiefs and people in Bahr El Ghazal, Kerubino, allied with the AArabs,@ did not.
Riek and Kerubino were reunited in the SSIM/A upon signing the Political Charter with the government in April 1996. They were the only ones to sign for the rebels.8 In this charter the parties pledged to end the civil war, and to conduct a referendum, Aafter full establishment of peace@ and at the end of an interim period, Ato determine the political aspirations@ of the people of southern Sudan.9 On April 21, 1997, that charter was incorporated into a Peace Agreement with the government, which Kerubino signed as Commander-in-Chief of SPLM/A (Bahr El Ghazal). Among the former SPLA commanders who signed the Peace Agreement, Riek and Kerubino were the ones who actually headed fighting forces. In 1997, Kerubino relocated his forces close to Wau.
Wau in 1997
Wau, the second largest town in the south, with an estimated population of 120,000 at the end of 1997,10 was tense from the time that the SPLA, in a surprise move in May-June 1997, captured three towns on the road leading northwest to Wau: Tonj (only sixty miles to the southeast of Wau), Rumbek, and Yirol.11 This campaign rolled on from a major March 1997 SPLA offensive from the Ugandan border in which Yei was captured and thousands of Sudan government troops (and their Ugandan rebel protégés, the West Nile Bank Front based in government-controlled southern Sudan) were killed or captured.12
One high-ranking Wau civil servant described the panic in Wau at the fall of Tonj:
When the government forces went to Tonj [to fight the SPLA in April 1997] the people in Wau thought that the government forces were so huge that none could defeat them. They were defeated by the SPLA and there was panic in Wau. We found out about the defeat when the soldiers ran back to Wau.
First to run back was the BM [multiple rocket launcher firing 122 mm rockets singly or in a salvo], mounted on a truck. Other soldiers came on swollen feet, wounded. The northerners wanted to run away. If the SPLA forces in Tonj had gone to Wau then, Wau would have fallen. The northerners took their families by air to Khartoum, even the senior officers.13
In May 1997 Kerubino fought the SPLA in and around Gogrial (one hundred kilometers northeast of Wau), and succeeded in preventing the SPLA from capturing this garrison town. One Wau resident said this fighting came close enough to Wau so that those in Wau could hear the sound of heavy guns. They also heard rumors of hundreds of people killed, Dinka on both sides. In one opinion, "Kerubino certainly did a favor for the government by stopping the SPLA from taking Wau at that time. Kerubino defended the Arabs by killing his own people."14 However, the SPLA succeeded in May 1997 in capturing Wunrok to the northeast of Gogrial;15 Wunrok had been a Kerubino stronghold until then, and was the place where he held an ICRC plane and crew hostage in late 1996.16
After Tonj fell in May 1997, the governor of Western Bahr El Ghazal state, Ali Tamim Fartak, said, "All in the state are currently in a state of maximum alert. . . . The government, the national peace forces in the state and forces of Kerubino Kwanyin [sic] are (gathered) in one bunker for the defense of the nation."17 The government made it very difficult for men to leave Wau for outlying rural areas; women were permitted to leave and return after a thorough search.18 The SPLA also detained some people leaving Wau; there are reports that displaced in the camps on the outskirts of Wau limited their movement due to SPLA attacks on the more venturesome.19 All these factors made it hard to cultivate beyond the perimeter of Wau. The same appeared to be true in other government villages; in the small village of Ariath on the railway north of Aweil residents feared venturing out of the narrow secure radius to cultivate because of the SPLA, limiting their economic recovery.20
After May 1997, some educated Dinka who held positions as government officials defected to the SPLA from Wau, disappearing to the other side. These included two of the very few medical doctors in Wau,21 and Dr. Martin Marial, dean of the college of education and vice chancellor of the University of Bahr El Ghazal.22
The security situation in Wau, tense since the SPLA victories in April and May 1997, worsened in October, when there was an SPLA mortar attack on Wau. Starting in November 1997 there was shooting nightly in Wau, either by nervous government forces or in exchanges of fire with the SPLA. The military supply train, so notorious and so vital to the garrison town of Wau, reached Wau in October 1997, stayed a few weeks, and moved north from Wau in late October, with six closed cars.23
3 Human Rights Watch/Africa, Civilian Devastation: Abuses by All Parties in the War in Southern Sudan (New York: Human Rights Watch, June 1994), pp. 228-35.
4 Arok Thon Arok was a Dinka Sudanese army officer who attended military school in Khartoum. He joined the SPLA in 1983, was jailed by the SPLA, escaped with Kerubino in 1992, and then joined Riek=s forces in 1993.
5 For an excellent and comprehensive assessment of the rebel movements in southern Sudan, see Peter Adwok Nyaba, The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan (Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Press, 1997). He reports that Kerubino made contact with Khartoum government agents while in Kampala, Uganda in 1992, after his escape from SPLA jail. Ibid., p. 122.
6 Charles Omondi, ASudan: Warlord not remorseful,@ Africanews, Issue 29 (Nairobi), August 1998.
7 Human Rights Watch, Behind the Red Line, Political Repression in Sudan (New York: Human Rights Watch, May 1996), pp. 318-23.
8 SPLM/SRRA-OLS Joint Targeting and Vulnerabilities Task Force in SPLM Controlled Areas of Bahr El Ghazal, Final Report (AJoint Task Force Report@), Nairobi, August 27, 1998, p. 2.
9 Kerubino signed as Deputy Chairman and Deputy Commander-in-Chief, South Sudan Independence Movement/Army (SSIM/A).
10 World Health Organization (WHO), Report of a WHO/UNICEF Joint Assessment Mission to Bahr El Ghazal, Sudan, Executive Summary of Mission Report, Rome, August 26, 1998 (AWHO/UNICEF Mission@). Juba is the largest town in the south.
11 "Rebel Radio Reports >Surprise= Capture by SPLA of Rumbek Town,@ Voice of Sudan, Voice of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), in Arabic, May 2, 1997, BBC Monitoring Service: Middle East, May 5, 1997; ASouthern Sudan Rebels Claim Another Victory,@ Reuter, Nairobi, May 11, 1997; AOpposition Radio Reports SPLA Capture of Yirol,@ Voice of Sudan, Voice of NDA, in Arabic, June 17, 1997, BBC Monitoring Service: Middle East, June 19, 1997.
12 See ASPLA Leader Garang on Capture of Yei, POWs, Government=s Peace Moves,@ Al Hayat (London), April 23, 1997, in Arabic, BBC Monitoring Service: Middle East, April 25, 1997.
13 Human Rights Watch confidential interview with former Wau civil servant, Wunrok, Bahr El Ghazal, Sudan, May 8, 1998.
14 Human Rights Watch confidential interview with resident of Wau, Nairobi, May 2, 1998. The government and northern Sudanese are interchangeably referred to by many southerners as AArabs.@
15 Human Rights Watch interview, Wunrok resident, Wunrok, Bahr El Ghazal, Sudan, May 7, 1998.
16 Jonathan Wright, ASudanese Militia Releases Red Cross Pilots, Nurse,@ Reuters, Nairobi, December 8, 1996.
17 "Political and Civil Unrest: Sudan,@ Lloyd's Information Casualty Report, Khartoum, May 26, 1998, quoting remarks carried in the government-owned Sudan al-Hadith daily on May 25, 1998.
18 Human Rights Watch interview, Martin Marial, former dean, College of Education, Wau, in Nairobi, May 3, 1998.
19 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998.
20 Human Rights Watch interview with human rights researcher, Nairobi, May 1, 1998.
21 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 2, 1998.
22 Human Rights Watch interview, Martin Marial, May 3, 1998.
23 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 1, 1998.