March 12, 2012 (BOR) – South Sudan’s minister for defence, Gen. John Kong Nyuon, has described dismissed claims by international community that disarmament of civilians by the army (SPLA) in Jonglei State may turn violent.
Gen. Kong made the remarks during the kick-off ceremony for a crucial disarmament campaign in Bor, attended by South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit on Monday.
The SPLA’s Chief of General Staffs, Gen. James Hoth Mai also said the national army won’t “let the people die every day and watch on”. The army has been criticised for not preventing clashes between ethnic groups in Jonglei in recent months.
He said that 15,000 troops have been deployed to disarm civilians in Jonglei state and will stay until there are no guns in the hands of civilians.
Over 1,000 people died in Jonglei state in 2011 alone due to inter-tribal raids and counter-raids. Another 120,000 people were displaced when 6,000 Lou Nuer armed men carried out what they called revenge attack on Pibor county, a home to Murle tribe. That attack was provoked by August raid which was ignited by June attack on Pibor.
Last Friday, about 3,000 Murle youths raided cattle camps and villages in Akobo county of Lou Nuer and left between 500 and 800 people either killed or abducted, according to local authorities.
South Sudan declared Jonglei state a disaster area in January and promised to carry out a comprehensive disarmament among the rival tribes. A similar disarmament in 2006 turn violent in Lou Nuer counties of Akobo, Uror and Nyirol and was stopped before continuing to neighbouring Murle to Pibor county. Lou Nuer said they were forced to rearm in self-defend.
The United States Ambassador to South Sudan, Susan Page, said last week in Bor that the US supports voluntary disarmament. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has also express concerns that the exercise may not be peaceful as raiders may not easily part with their guns.
South Sudan Inspector General of Police (IGP), Gen. Tito Acuil, told the army and police forces in Bor Monday to retrieve guns with discipline.
“Don’t kill civilians but take the guns. The UN is already complaining will turn violent,” IGP Gen. Acuil said.
Without mentioning the UN and the US positions on disarming civilians in Jonglei state, defence minister Gen. John Kong said the assertion that the exercise will be bloody is “nonsense.”
“Those who are saying disarmament will be bloody are the same people who blame us [government] for not providing security,” Gen. Kong said.
“They contradict themselves by saying that the disarmament will be bloody. That is nonsense. We are not going to kill civilians. We want peace and there is no way [to] restore peace unless we take guns,” Gen. Kong stressed.
Gen. James Hoth Mai, South Sudan army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), speaking before defence minister Gen. Kong, questioned critics of disarmament.
“Which one is better? To let our people die? 100, 200 [people dying every day. No. We better disarm them,” Gen. Hoth said.
According to army chiefs, there are 15,000 troops deployed in Jonglei state. The collections of gun officially begin on Monday, according to President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
The force now heads to the eleven counties of Jonglei state “stay there until guns are collected from civilians,” Gen. Hoth Mai said.
Jonglei state governor Kuol Manyang Juuk handed over his pistol and AK 47 to Commander of “Operation Restore Peace in Jonglei” Maj. Gen. Kuol Dim Kuol during the rally at the New Jonglei Stadium.
“If I can give my gun, who else wants to refuse giving his guns,” Governor Kuol said.
Calling for discipline among the soldiers and police, President Kiir warns politicians, whom he describes as his problems, to cease igniting tribal tensions.
“The group sitting behind me is my problem,” President Kiir said, speaking in front of politicians as he faces the public.
President Kiir argues the public to report politicians involved in the sabotaging programmes such disarmament to him. He asked the public to cooperate with army and police in carrying disarmament. President Kiir return to Bor in 17 days having visited the state capital on February 25 when Transitional Constitution was signed into law by Governor Kuol Manyang.
Hundreds of pick-up truck and lorries were displayed at the rally in show of force that the government of South Sudan has invest in restoring peace in Jonglei state.
Jonglei state has notorious road networks and this disarmament is a test of success to working in inaccessible areas.