Latest News
SUDAN: Civilian disarmament remains elusive as government rethinks process
By [unknown placeholder $article.art_field1$]
Dec 5, 2008 - 6:49:15 AM

SUDAN: Civilian disarmament remains elusive as government rethinks process

Photo: UN/IRIN
Boys and men belonging to a civilian defence force carrying arms in Akobo in 2006
JUBA, 3 December 2008 (IRIN) - Efforts by Southern Sudanese states to forcefully collect arms from civilians have been poorly planned, leading to violence, deaths and increased insecurity in some areas, sources said.

President Salva Kiir in June directed all southern states to disarm their populations by the end of 2008. However, no government policy on how disarmament should be undertaken existed, leaving implementation to state governors and opening up the process to possible abuse.

A piecemeal approach was adopted, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, leaving disarmed people vulnerable to armed communities and forcing them to re-arm.

"Disarmament stimulated demand for [often newer] firearms, as well as resulting in hundreds of deaths in states such as Jonglei in 2006," said Claire Mc Evoy, manager of the survey’s Sudan project.

That year, a disarmament campaign collected about 4,000 guns. But it prompted skirmishes and clashes in which an alleged 1,000 people died.

Two months ago, soldiers fought with civilians in Rumbek during a disarmament effort. Seven people died and the deputy speaker of the state assembly Marik Nanga was beaten by soldiers, according to a parliamentary security committee. Outraged, local politicians urged the population to use their weapons to resist disarmament.

"The president appointed a subcommittee and sent us to Rumbek," said Daniel Deng Monydit, MP and member of a committee that investigated the incident. "We found nine wounded people in the hospital.

"The army was deployed to search the town; [instead] they looted [it] and opened fire randomly, wounding more than 10 civilians."

David Pokier, Deputy Inspector-General of Police, said: "We have to start to work together with the community. Instead of using force to take arms away from the people, it should be done through the community, the leaders, chiefs, elders of the villages. It would be peaceful and everybody would surrender arms without causing problems."

Photo: IRIN
Two months ago soldiers fought with civilians in Rumbek

Deng Leek, MP for Bor in Jonglei State, called for better planning. "[It] is a difficult process, when someone has a gun for a long time it becomes a part of him or herself," he told IRIN. "To take it is to take away his life, you have to plan so that you don’t expose those who have been disarmed."

David Gressly, head of the UN in Southern Sudan, in September warned of more chaos if disarmament was not done carefully. Many in the Southern capital, Juba, agree with his assessment. 

"It is becoming an issue for the population, the administration, the Government of Southern Sudan [GOSS]," Monydit said. "Any operation needs full awareness. Most of the states are talking to people to soften the ground so that when it is eventually done, there is consensus."

Leek called for disarmament in accordance with the provisions of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended more than two decades of conflict between south and north.

However, the CPA’s stipulation to “monitor and verify the disarmament of all Sudanese civilians who are illegally armed” raises two problems, according to analysts. First, gun laws have yet to be enacted, making a definition of legality contentious, and the boundary between civilians and non-civilians can often be blurred.

Rethinking disarmament

Ownership of small weapons, according to the Small Arms Survey, is extremely prevalent in Sudan. Preliminary estimates from 2007 indicate that between 1.9 and 3.2 million firearms are in circulation - of which two-thirds are in civilian hands.

"Large numbers of pastoralist civilians possess firearms to protect themselves and their property/cattle in the absence of security provided by the government and its security services," said Mc Evoy.

"Firearms protect people's communities and livelihoods from outside attacks [by other pastoralist groups and armed groups like the Lord's Resistance Army] as well as facilitating attacks on other communities in a vicious cycle of retributive violence," she added.

Photo: UN/IRIN
Small arms at a disarmament collection point in Akobo in 2006
Local leaders agree that too many guns are in civilian hands. "The SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] had its armaments, the SAF [Sudan Armed Forces] and civilians also had theirs to protect themselves and their property," Leek said.

As a result, the process is being reconsidered. In October, the council of ministers set up the Bureau of Community Security and Small Arms Control under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to develop and coordinate a policy for small arms control.

The new policy also reflects the regional nature of the problem. The bureau will coordinate with Sudan’s neighbours and northern authorities.

Regional approach

An eight-hour gun battle in July between hundreds of Murle and the Ugandan army confirmed the need for a regional approach, according to officials. 

"The communities are heavily armed," Barnaba Marial Benjamin, the Minister for Regional Cooperation, said after the clash. "We need to work with our neighbours on this."

Analysts say disarming only the Toposa, for example, would make them feel insecure and raise fears that the Murle could attack them. Disarming the Murle and the Toposa - two communities living close to the border - could allow the Turkana from Kenya to attack them.

Similarly, disarming the Dinka and the Nuer - both living at the border with Northern Sudan - could create room for the Misseriya to attack.

There are also deep-rooted social factors at play. The 2006 disarmament in Akobo, Jonglei State, began peacefully with the consent of the mostly Dinka population. But later Murle neighbours who were still armed mounted raids on Akobo, leading to rearmament and subsequent clashes with security forces.

"Until South Sudanese feel safe enough to give up their firearms in the knowledge that the government will provide security for them, disarmament will likely lead to pockets of resistance and violence," Mc Evoy said.

''Instead of using force to take arms away, it should be done through the community, the leaders, the chiefs, elders of the villages ''
Marching against guns

In July, dozens of protesters marched through Juba calling for a gun-free community, with the chairman of the Southern Sudan Action Network against Small Arms, Bishop Paul Pitia Yugusuk, calling the Jonglei disarmament “disastrous”.

The network proposed raising awareness of the dangers of illegal weapons and not paying compensation for the arms as an incentive.

The annual loss of life reinforces the need to act quickly. In Lakes State, according to media reports, 183 people were killed by small arms between January and August 2008.

"By acquiring guns [the communities] have become emboldened, fighting among themselves, stealing cattle from each other and even carrying out cross-border raids into other countries," police chief Pokier said.

"The time to disarm our population is now - before the elections [in 2009], before the referendum [on independence in 2011] so that we maintain peace, law and order, and security," he said.

© Copyright by