The southern Sudanese town of Pibor remains on high alert after two soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) were killed during post-election clashes there on Saturday, according SPLA officials.
The fighting raises concerns that post-election violence may spread through southern Sudan’s vast, oil-producing Jonglei state where failed gubernatorial candidate, Gen. George Athor, has been engaged in sporadic but heavy fighting with government forces since April 30th.
According to SPLA spokesman General Kuol Diem Kuol, fighting took place in Pibor on May 22 between SPLA soldiers and supporters of David Yauyau, an unsuccessful opposition candidate during Sudan’s historic elections in April. Yauyau stood for parliamentary election on behalf of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a registered and sanctioned party outside of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
“After losing the election, he [Yauyau] started to mobilize some of the youth against the SPLM/SPLA,” General Kuol Diem Kuol said. “On 22 May, two SPLA soldiers went to collect firewood outside Pibor town and were killed in cold blood,” he added. Large numbers of SPLA troops were reportedly deployed throughout the town and the United Nations has ordered a cessation of operations in Pibor until further notice. 10 United Nations staff working for the World Food Program were evacuated as a result of the fighting.
Yauyau says that a combination of things led him to revolt.
“My reason for fighting was the rigging of the election and that we were not given the right to vote,” he said via satellite phone. “Also, my community has been mistreated by the SPLA. They were tortured terribly and nine of them were killed during the disarmament. This is what made us angry and caused us to go out,” he added.
He refers to the ongoing military effort throughout southern Sudan to remove illegal weapons from a heavily armed civilian population. Disarmament efforts were particularly intense in the Pibor area during March and April during which military sources claim to have netted “thousands” of illegal weapons.
“The disarmament in Pibor was voluntary and no force was used,” Gen. Kuol Diem said. “If he is using disarmament as the reason he is a big liar. He is only trying to justify his crimes,” he added.
Yauyau reports that three of his supporters were wounded during separate clashes with the SPLA on 20 May. The number of his supporters is currently unknown. “We believe that there are less than 50 with him and that many of them are former Sudan Armed Forces militia,” Gen. Kuol Diem said.
During Sudan’s twenty-two year civil war, portions of the Murle tribe, which inhabits Pibor County and of which Yauyau is a member, formed militias that fought against southern rebels with arms and support from the northern Sudanese government. When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended the war in 2005, many northern-aligned militia leaders and their forces were incorporated into southern political and military institutions. While the integration has thus far prevented large outbreaks of internal violence, distrust between formerly hostile factions pervades the interim southern government.
During an interview in March, Yauyau complained of restricted political freedom and harassment in Pibor during the campaign season. “We are facing a lot of restrictions here,” he said. “The SPLM will have their rallies in town while we are forced to have ours in very remote places.”
Both domestic and international election observation organizations documented cases of intimidation, arrest of opposition candidates and other irregularities throughout southern Sudan.
“We do not fear these tactics,” Yauyau said in the lead-up to the election. “Yes, some are being threatened, put in prison and some may even be killed, but this is our place and we need change.”
Southern Sudan is only eight months out from an independence referendum that will determine whether or not to secede from the north. Like the April elections, the CPA mandates the January referendum and its timely execution is a critical sticking point for southerners.