By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (AlertNet) – The government of South Sudan is launching a controversial disarmament campaign on Monday in troubled Jonglei State, hoping to end a deadly cycle of inter-ethnic violence which has displaced 140,000 people in recent months.
Observers have raised concerns that disarmament could worsen conflict if it is not carried out voluntarily or equitably. Previous disarmament campaigns in Jonglei have been characterised by violence against civilians, including summary execution, torture, rape and armed theft, non-governmental organisation Saferworld said, citing recent studies.
“Communities in Jonglei often perceive disarmament campaigns as government attempts to punish or control ‘wayward’ ethnic groups and/or as intimately linked to ongoing political processes,” Saferworld said in a recent report.
The Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic groups had previously clashed over water and grazing land but the conflict has intensified since late December, with thousands of houses being burnt and infrastructure destroyed.
“The process will only be successful if it is carried out as part of a comprehensive approach to peace, justice and reconciliation, and includes protection of the communities by security forces,” the U.N. Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) said in a statement on Monday.
U.S.-based Enough Project, an organisation fighting genocide and crimes against humanity, called for a peace process to precede disarmament, saying a poorly organised exercise risks renewed fighting which could block humanitarian aid.
“The conditions are not in place for a disarmament campaign to be effective,” Amanda Hsiao, Enough Project South Sudan field researcher, said in a statement last month.
“Without the capacity to simultaneously disarm rival communities, to ensure the security of disarmed communities, and to stop the flow of arms back into the hands of civilians, forcible disarmament at this moment will undermine, rather than facilitate, the government’s efforts toward peace-building in Jonglei.”
Last week, a senior government official in Jonglei said between 500 and 800 people were missing following a March 9 dawn attack on cattle camps and villages by armed Murle, according to the Sudan Tribune.
The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has expressed concern that between 10,000 and 15,000 people have moved out of Jonglei and into Ethiopia.
“It may be pre-emptive of further inter-communal attacks in Jonglei or an effort to take arms out of the state before the upcoming disarmament drive,” it said in a March 8 update.
In its March 12 statement, UNMISS called upon the government, security forces and community leaders to ensure that disarmament is carried out in an orderly and safe manner, with respect for human rights.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)