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Group Says Militias in South Sudan Harassing People

As an international donor conference to raise funds for southern Sudan gets under way in Norway, a German human rights organization says militias are still harassing people in areas of the south.

The commissioner for human rights for Sign of Hope, Klaus Stieglitz, told reporters in Nairobi Monday militias formerly allied with the government are restricting the movements of people living in Upper Nile state and illegally taxing them.

Mr. Stieglitz says that during his agency's three-day trip to the town of Old Fangak last week, he heard the testimonies of almost a dozen people describing how militias are still detaining people who were kidnapped during the continent's long-running civil war.

He also says the militias are extorting money from those who use local roads and other services, causing further pressure on an already desperately poor people.

"There was a civilian man and he wanted to sell his cow in the marketplace," said Mr. Stieglitz. "On the way to the marketplace he had to pass through a few militia stations. In the marketplace, he sold the cow for 80,000 Sudanese pounds. Before that he had to pass the militia posts. At each of these three posts he had to pay 5,000 Sudanese pounds, which makes 15,000 as a total. On returning, he also bought some goods. He had to pay another 8,000 Sudanese pounds at each station. That would mean, as a total he had to pay 39,000 Sudanese pounds. This man really spent nearly half of the money he got [in extortion payments] to the militia."

The Sudanese government and the south's main rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, signed a peace deal in January of this year to end 21 years of civil war.

Under the terms of the agreement, armed groups allied with the Sudanese government or the rebel group must be integrated into the army or other institutions by next January.

Mr. Stieglitz says he fears that this militia activity in Upper Nile might compromise the peace deal.

"The activities of this militia are a major threat to the implementation of the peace process," he said. "The implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement is a very crucial step to establish stability in the region."

With the signing of the peace deal, attention is now being focused on the reconstruction of southern Sudan, left destitute after so many years of a war that has killed two million people and displaced four million more.

Aid workers and missionaries in Upper Nile and other areas report that tens of thousands of people returning to their homes across the south face starvation.

At a donor conference that opens in Norway's capital Monday, Sudan is asking for more than $2 billion to rebuild the south.

Officials of the former rebel group, who are in the southern Sudanese town of Juba, the new capital of south Sudan, are also calling on the government to rescind emergency measures imposed on Juba during the war.