Turbulent South Sudan: Export in return for genocide
Soldiers in blue helmets cannot be depended on anymore to save the native population. Nobody is prepared to die for Africans.
Friends from the Darfur rebel group JEM (Justice and Equality Movement) safely drove me and Uroš Strnad on Tuesday, December 17, from the Nuba mountains in Sudan back over the border to the Republic of South Sudan, to the Nuba refugee camp in Jida. The next day, despite the news about clashes in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, we continued the journey without disturbance through the Nuer and Dinka country to Fariang and on to the settlement of Rubkona just before the bridge over the Bahr el Ghazal river and the city of Bentui on the other side, the main administrative and military center that protects the largest oil fields in Unity province. We had no problems on any checkpoint, neither with the Nuer, who are in the majority here, nor with the Dinka, who are the minority tribe. In the same SPLA (Sudan People Liberation Army) uniforms, with the same oil tower logo on rolled-up sleeves, representing Unity province, they monitored, with apparent calm, the infinite level plane separating them from the Arab army from Sudan, stationed in Highli, from where a long, black cloud of smoke was rising up from the north-west to cover half the horizon.
The name of Unity province symbolizes unity, reconciliation, cooperation, prospects. The ambition that peace should prevail on the savannas in the biggest wetlands on the planet, reaching from the mountains on the border with Uganda to the Nuba mountains, on both sides of the Nile. Peace between the African tribes Dinka and Nuer, who have traditionally, throughout known history, battled each other over cattle, and frequently over girls and children too. But in reality, the name of this province in the North of the new, 193.th member state of the United Nations, could not be more misleading.
On Thursday evening, December 19, just before dark, walking back from the UN base to Rubkona, we saw in the sky red flashes of incendiary rockets, falling among the straw huts in the settlement in front of us. Then gunfire and thunder started. Conventional small arms, bazookas, Katjusha rockets, then heavy artillery as well. The road towards the UN base quickly filled with refugees. Judging by their tribal scar marks, they were Dinka.
We knew that the war between the nomadic shepherd tribes spread from the capital Juba not only to the countryside around Pibor, Akoba, Bor, Rumbek, but also to Bentui in Unity province. We heard this an hour ago from terrified passengers of the Sudanese Kush air carrier who could not board their flight. We met them at the reception of the UN base, where we came to ask for air transport to Juba, after the Sudanese carrier Southern Supreme Airlines cancelled the flight in the morning, for reasons unknown.
The passengers-to-be were teachers from Kenya and Uganda, hired to help educate the people in the countryside, where 80 percent of the women cannot read, and they were scared to death. Speaking over each other, they said that as their plane was about to land, on a landing strip some three hours’ drive over the oil fields south of Bentui, angry Nuer suddenly appeared from the bushes and threatened with guns pointing at the sky, until the plane abandoned the approach and flew off again. When the confused passengers boarded a bus, they were stopped at the first checkpoint by Nuer in SPLA and prison guard uniforms, who descended upon them furiously. They shoved them onto the ground, prodded them with Kalashnikov butts, and then began to fire into the ground around their heads. The passengers believed they were finished, but the bullies then began to argue among themselves, because they could not agree on what to do with them. They did not shoot them, as those in prison guard uniforms demanded, but only took from them everything they had of value, and kicked them off back onto the bus. They dragged away with them one of the passengers. A gunshot was heard from the bushes, he is probably dead.
When the sky over Rubkona lit up with red incandescence amid the general gunfire and thunder, we turned back towards the UN base in a column of refugees. This time, the Mongolian soldiers in fortified barricades behind the barbed wire did not let us go back to the reception, but redirected us towards the side entrance. We stepped to the end of a long queue, under nervous searchlights that were constantly scanning lines of bony women in weathered clothes, children, many without parents, as well as men in SPLA uniforms, Dinka with Kalashnikovs in their hands. We waited calmly for the big iron gate that promised safety to finally open. But it stayed and stayed shut.
Suddenly, a crying woman with a child in her lap emerged from the darkness and pleaded with us pitifully to go with her. Jalal, the Nuba that I met on the road earlier, translated that the woman is Dinka, that her name is Mariama, that she lives in a hut right next to the base, that her home was attacked a little earlier by Nuer in civilian clothes, who threatened with spears that they will slaughter everybody. Somehow, she managed to hide most of the children in a cesspit and escape to get help.
Uroš immediately asked the Mongolian soldiers who, armed to their teeth, watched all this from an armored vehicle parked on the road, to go with her. At first they didn’t understand, then pretended not to understand, then pretended that they will go to help, and finally really ran, but came back, saying that they have to ask the commanding officer for permission, and began to phone frantically. So, Uroš and I went running after the woman, who was wringing her hands increasingly desperately and crying. That prompted the soldiers to finally move, but slowly and at a safe distance, fanning out with machine guns ready to fire.
As we ran out of the searchlight beams, they stopped again. When they noticed that I was filming them in infrared, the leader covered the camera lens with his hand and screamed furiously, demanding to know who we were. I said we were reporters. He roared about who gave us permission to come here. The government of South Sudan, I said. He calmed down, but meanwhile the woman disappeared into the night by herself. After several tense minutes, she returned with a group of mud-covered and mortally frightened children, who followed her like shadows towards the entrance for refugees.
»You are from Slovenia,« enthused a white woman as we waited until each and every one, except for our new friend Jalal, were allowed to go beyond the fence, after about three hours. »And I am Polish. Don’t worry, you can sleep here. But not with these refugees, we will put you in the conference hall.« »And I am from Bosnia!« boasted a muscular young man in civilian clothes, with a blue UN cap. »We Bosnians know what war is! But who is this?« he asked and gestured at Jalal. »He cannot come with you. He must go with the refugees!« demanded the UN security too, Nuer and Dinka at the reception, as we were registered in the guestbook. It took Ana, the Polish woman, to convince them that he could come with us. Jalal is Sudanese, not South Sudanese, so not an IDP (internally displaced person). Jalal is the new member of our team, so he gets the same rights as we do.
Before we lay down on the bare floor, where some 50 men and women, UN workers from various African countries, crowded, waiting for a plane to Juba, Ana brought two blankets and cans of tuna, cheese, marmalade, a loaf of frozen bread and two chocolate bars. »But don’t let the others see you, I don’t have enough for all,« she said. We ate, hidden among containers, and wondered, shivering from the cold, how many refugee children without blankets will get a cold tonight and die in the open windswept plane where they were pushed by the Mongolian soldiers.
We asked Marco, an Italian. He shrugged and invited me and Uroš to a glass of liqueur, casually ignoring Jalal. »Did you see them?« he blurted, at the table in his container, »who would have thought that such people can still live now, in 2013. Half naked. Like goats! Like a herd of goats!« The sweet liqueur in the mouth suddenly stopped tasting good.
Before we left, he declared that the war was started by a Dinka, the president of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, when he fired the vice-president Riek Machar, a Nuer, in October, and on Saturday banned his party SPLA DC too (SPLA Democrats for Changes).
In the morning, we asked Ana if we could ride to town with the armored vehicles that had to inspect and assess the damage done during the night. We would film everything, Uroš would immediately edit the footage, the video report about the spread of the war to the countryside would reach the world that very day, like the video reports that we were uploading to the Web by satellite from the Nuba mountains, having trained local volunteers for the task. She replied that that would be absolutely impossible. She must ask for permission the headquarters in Juba, and they in turn ask the blue palace by the Hudson river in New York, where they check every reporter for being too critical of the UN. That would take several weeks. She also said that she cannot get us on a UN plane because we do not belong to UN personnel. We should go on foot to the landing strip in Rubkona and wait for a commercial plane to land.
Since gunfire had apparently stopped, the three of us set out towards the river of refugees that was winding again from Rubkona since early in the morning. When we reached a dilapidated chicken farm just before the first checkpoint, we were received by solemn and somewhat dejected looking friends from JEM, who had given us a ride from the Nuba mountains the day before in a completely different mood.
We found out that the marketplace about two kilometers away had completely burned down, and probably our hotel and our backpacks as well. If they were not burned, they were surely stolen by the Nuer, soldiers and civilians, that hunt and shoot the Dinka all the way to Bentui and further on to the South. Nobody can estimate how many dead there are, because nobody bothers with that. Most Darfur merchants lost overnight everything that they were selling. A number of Somali and Ethiopian women, refugees from their own countries, that were cooking beans and serving tea in the marketplace, were also raped. Nobody is safe anymore.
The trucks and all-terrain vehicles in the yard were already fully loaded. They also rolled up the carpet on which we sat and philosophized about what the new war would bring them. Judging by the tense atmosphere, they were only waiting for the order to retreat back to the other side of the border, to the Nuba mountains, to Sudan.
If the Nuer take power in the Republic of South Sudan, nothing will be as before anymore. The former vice-president of the Republic of South Sudan and Nuer tribal chief, Riak Machar, is also known for treason, in the middle of the twenty-one year civil war started by legendary Dr. John Garang, a Dinka, in 1983. This was a rebellion against descendants of slave hunters, Arabs in the North, who helped the British control Sudan in colonial times, and received from them political and economic power after their departure in 1956. Riak Machar, together with Lam Akol, accused Dr. Garang of leading the SPLA too despotically, and rebelled against him. This caused a terrible split within the SPLA, and war between the two tribes that almost destroyed the SPLA and, along with the war against the Arabs, demanded more than two million casualties in both tribes.
Most commanders of the SRF (Sudan Revolutionary Front), which unites African fighters for human rights in the Nuba mountains, Blue Nile and also Darfur in Sudan - after they were abandoned by their SPLA comrades in the South following the secession of the Republic of South Sudan - believe that Akol’s party SPLA DC, disbanded last Saturday in Juba by Salva Kiir, is financed by the military hunta of Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum. And that Bashir’s mercenaries were secretly offering their services to Arab interests ever since the independence of South Sudan was declared. In a new war between the Dinka and the Nuer, they will simply kill each other, by the well-known Arab tactic of »killing a slave with a slave «. Most believe that the goal of Khartoum is to weaken the new state, which it actually regard as war booty, having consented to its independence with a forked tongue, and to take over the oil fields in the South again with help from the Nuer.
The potential victory by Machar’s Nuer might sever the logistic connections to Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile and thus stop the supply of aid, miserable as it is, that arrives in secret over the border from the South. The indigenous African people of Sudan might find themselves similarly isolated as they were between 1993 and 1996, when the Nuba mountains were so closed off that nobody could reach the million and more besieged for three years. Far from the eyes and ears of the world community, the Arabs might finally exterminate the African natives from the mountains where the bones of their ancestors rest.
When we inquired about our knapsacks, the leader of the Darfurians set out by himself in an all-terrain vehicle to Rubkona. After an hour or so, he returned with everything that we had left at the hotel, except for my sleeping bag. We could then choose whether to retreat with the Darfurians back to the Nuba mountains immediately, or ask the UN again to get us by air - over all these warring Nuer and Dinka - to Juba, where, judging by the reports, conditions were under control of the Dinka of president Salva Kiir, and then fly to Europe by way of Kampala in Uganda.
Since all mobile communications were disabled, I reported everything to my wife Bojana in Slovenia by satellite phone. She said that Uroš’ mother had already asked Andrej Šter at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for help with the UN plane. Half an hour later, Šter sent the message that we can return to the UN base: the Slovenian ambassador in Beijing had asked for help, through official channels, the government in Ulan Bator that controls the Mongolian soldiers in Bentui.
As we walked back to the UN base, a convoy of military vehicles headed north passed us by, with Nuer raising their weapons threateningly and letting out wild battle cries.
»We will take you on the next plane,« Ana told us at the entrance. »You can tell that woman that keeps calling from the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that she can stop now!« she added firmly.
In order to return at least a little of the favor to the UN, we joined the UN personnel volunteers who were registering the crowd of refugees, many thousand strong by now, pressing into the base. We were given a sheet of paper on which we drew a short line for every man, woman and child that pushed through the tall metal gate. For vertical ones and one across the bundle.
The most pitiful human beings, surviving on the black soil over the largest reserves of oil, were turning into lines in front of our eyes. Not into numbers, as we are used to seeing, but into ordinary blue lines.
By eight in the evening, when the order that we must stop was given, and our soldiers closed the gate and blocked the entrance, a total of 5000 residents of Rubkona, Bentui and the surrounding countryside came through.
Since the canteen was already closed, I went hunting for food for the three of us to the Indians, who are allegedly not very good soldiers, but always have some food. The cook from Himachal Pradesh loaded up two plates of rice with dal and chapatti for me. Then the thundering started again. A siren sounded, our hosts made haste to lock the doors and started to vanish in one direction. Through the darkness, from all sides, columns of new refugees were rushing towards the bunker, this time UN personnel.
I found everybody in five large, strong containers on the west side of the camp.
»If a single rocket falls on the camp, they will evacuate us all!« said a Spanish woman. »In Ruanda, in Srebrenica, on Timor, the same shameful thing happened. The mission is not important, asses are important. The people on whose behalf so many UN mercenaries make a good living are not important at all,!«
Around midnight, when the rocket fire stopped, the three of us returned to the conference hall.
»Yes, evacuation!« confirmed a Ukrainian in the morning. »All base personnel will be evacuated.« »If all goes well, you will be in Kampala today!« also confirmed Ana.
After much contradictory information, I found myself with Uroš and Jalal at two o’clock in the afternoon in a UN plane on the landing strip in Rubkona.
In Juba, after settling in right next to the airport in the largest UN base in the Republic of South Sudan, which looks like a city within a city, we met our friend Josef from Slovakia, the UN chief of security, in a modern restaurant. He invited us into a white all-terrain vehicle and drove past security to where he was not supposed to: the 20.000 refugees who were exiled to the west part of the base, where they literally squatted and walked on each other. »Tomorrow we will start distributing food to them!« he said and looked away. »After a week, you will only start to distribute food tomorrow?« »The main thing is, they have water! And security from day one!«
»Do they really have security?« He confirmed what we heard from an Indian in our container, that in Akobo the Nuer broke into the UN base and killed 17 SPLA soldiers. They were all Dinka.
»In Darfur, the hybrid made from soldiers of the UN and the African Union, does not have a mandate to protect the population, but only an observing function.«
In Akobo, Nuer also killed three Indian soldiers.
A friend, working for a Slovak oil company in Bentui, reported that the Nuer broke through the fence, beat up the Slovaks, and then shot all the Dinka they could find right before their eyes.
The commander of the 14.th SPLA division, general Kuong, has just won the war in Bentui against general Deng, the province governor and Kiir’s supporter. This means that the largest oil fields in the Republic of South Sudan are already under Nuer control. The rebels against the Dinka were also joined by the notorious Peter Garet and Jao Jao from the Murle tribe. Together, they also conquered Bor in the morning. In the local UN base, several thousand merchants from Uganda tremble for their lives. During the evacuation of American workers, two planes were shot at, so they were unable to land.
In Juba, the first mass graves were already discovered. Similar news arrive from other places around the country.
Before flying off in the morning, we handed over to Josef two unused airplane tickets Bentui-Juba; we asked him to give them to our friend Nehmedin, a refugee from Blue Nile, who had always helped us smuggle cameras and satellite links to Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. Because of the police curfew, we could not meet during the night. He told us on the phone only that SPLA soldiers, Dinka, drove over his modest home of bamboo and sheet metal in a tank on Tuesday and stole the motorbike that he earned working in an electronics shop. »Merry Christmas and a happy New Year,« was all I managed to hear before the battery ran out.
A year and a half after the independent state was declared, nobody can really control anymore the millions that were lied to and insulted, that were promised by foreign wheelers and dealers of peace that if they vote for secession from the North of Sudan in the referendum, a new, better life awaits them under the protection of western lobbies.
The peace agreement, signed by Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir in 2005, after the longest African war, after two million dead and five million exiled to refugee camps, brought the natives nothing, except in Juba. In the countryside, no schools were built, no clinics, no jobs were created. Most of the billions of dollars and euros of US and EU aid, intended for development and advancement, were stolen by the masters in Juba and possibly abroad as well.
Over the last 500 years, we »civilized« people have practically exterminated the indigenous populations of all continents. Sudan remained the most indigenous; neither the Arab slave hunters nor their western colleagues succeeded in hunting down or finishing off the native people, accustomed to all kinds of evil.
It is no longer possible to rely on soldiers in blue helmets to save the natives, even if the UN Security Council dispatches additional 5.000 soldiers. Since nobody is prepared to take a risk and die for the Africans, robots might help - drones with cameras, offered by UN units in Congo, who use them since June to monitor coltan mining areas. Word is that precisely because of this surveillance and monitoring technology, violence against the civilian population has really decreased.
I don’t believe that the supra-national corporations that are taking over the world intend to deploy »flying cameras« in Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, Abiei and Darfur too, the provinces that were already sacrificed before the comprehensive peace agreement was signed.
The Nuba are not warrior nomadic cowboys like the Nuer and the Dinka. They are farmers who believe that they will reap what they sow.
Over the last two months, my wife Bojana, Uroš and I filmed statements by keepers of the sacred ancestral lands, which make it abundantly clear that they are ready to die rather than surrender. The families in caves around burned down mountains and in foxholes near every home calmly wait to see what the blocked connection with the South will bring them. On behalf of them all, Jacob Wiliams, volunteer videographer in the Nuba mountains, only pleads, by satellite link and Skype, that we don’t forget that they are nevertheless, despite all the arrogance and willful ignorance of the global community, still part of humanity.
We who know what is about to die and what harm this is doing to humanity, join their plea.
Tomo Križnar, Kampala, December 24 2014