Home | News    Saturday 15 November 2008

Misseriya and Dinka grapple with history of child abduction, renew grazing rights

By Skye Wheeler

November 14, 2008 (AWEIL) — Representatives from Dinka Malual and Misseriya from the Merram area ended a three-day peace conference on Friday with renewed promises made to Misseriya pastoralists for unhindered access to grazing areas and water points in the South if they are unarmed.

The two neighbouring communities have long shared a pastoralist lifestyle and resources but were pitted against each other during the conflict that saw the destruction of scores of villages and tens of thousands of children and women abducted.

Peaceful relations since the CPA was thrown back into question when fighting erupted in late December last year between armed Misseriya and SPLA soldiers near the north-south border that divides the two communities, killing dozens.

The two groups met this week in Aweil town to smooth over relations just before the Misseriya pastoralists are due to begin entering the South as the dry season leaves them waterless in northern Sudan.

A communiqué released after the USAID funded conference also said that the two communities also agreed to form a joint policing group to maintain security in the area and work closely together to maintain peace.

At a party on Thursday night that marked the end of the dialogue Misseriya chiefs joined in the revelry, enthusiastically waving South Sudan flags or fixing them into their turbans allowing them more freedom to dance.


But tension was higher during Thursday discussions about wartime large-scale child and women abduction, mostly in Dinka areas by Khartoum-supported militias often from the Misseriya or Rezeigat communities.

Officials from the Centre for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children (CEWAC) made speeches saying they wanted to renew and upscale efforts to return the children and women taken in raids mostly years before the CPA was signed.

CEWAC was formed under the instruction of Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir and has used networks of tribal leaders on both sides of the border to find abductees. Although a few of the 5,000 children and women returned already were brought back this year, CEAWAC leader James Aguer said on Thursday that cash shortages had meant a decline in the returns. "There are around 35,000 women and children still away, all over Sudan," Aguer said.

"CEWAC gave the Misseriya a very bad name. This was a war practice only," said one Misseriya leader, echoing several others. But talks continued and the plenary as a whole agreed to a "join retrieval committee comprising of traditional authorities to identify and reunite the abducted women and children with their families," in a move that conference-watchers said was important to heal old wounds.

Other issues will remain contentious. Misseriya leaders like Al-Hirika Osman Omer, leader of the Merram Misseriya said the SPLA needed to withdraw back southwards.

"The SPLA need to be evacuated from our area. That will bring peace. They are the army and the army is part of the government. The government should not attack civilians," he said, adding that the SPLA presence was frightening Misseriya.

But Northern Bahr el Ghazal’s Governor Paul Malong said that such demands could not be met so easily.

"Those decisions belong to the Presidency, to the Joint Defense Board," he said in an interview, "the right thing to do is let the forces be peaceful to them." He added that the Misseriya pastoralists should enter the South without weapons this year and place their security in the hands of the Southern government.

Malong said he could not confirm or deny if SPLA forces were above the north-south border, explaining that both communities have different ideas about where the border lies.

During the interview he blamed the outbreak in fighting at the end of last year and in early 2008 on both groups of ex-militia men that remained partly out of control even though they had joined the SPLA and on former proxy fighters for Khartoum still carrying arms from the northern pastoralists. Like Misseriya leaders he emphasised that the perception of a straight Dinka-Misseriya conflict was a misunderstanding.