JUBA — South Sudan's military says rebel leader and former army general David Yau Yau, whose forces killed 24 soldiers last week, is recruiting disgruntled ethnic Murle youth who are resisting army-led disarmament.
South Sudan has had persistent trouble with both rebels and ethnic tension since becoming an independent nation last year.
Military spokesman Philip Aguer said Tuesday that 17 soldiers were still missing and 12 “seriously wounded” from an ambush on 200 troops last week in Pibor County in Jonglei state, home to the minority Murle group.
He said that rebel leader David Yau Yau, a Murle general who broke away from the army in April after briefly responding to a presidential amnesty for militias, was now recruiting youth who fled to Ethiopia when the army came to disarm Jonglei in March.
“The attacks, to our information, was carried out by the few forces by Yau Yau, and his forces were joined by some element of youth, Murle youth, that is refusing disarmament,” Aguer said.
The order for state-wide disarmament in Jonglei earlier this year followed the biggest wave of ethnic violence to rock South Sudan since it broke away from Sudan in July 2011 after decades of civil war.
The United Nations estimated that over 600 people died after up to 8,000 armed youth from the Lou Nuer group, joined by some of the dominant Dinka tribe, rampaged through Pibor County's villages, massacring civilians, looting cows and abducting women and children as part of a plan that online statements said aimed to “wipe the Murle off the Earth’s face.”
Around 300 people more were killed in revenge attacks.
Aguer asserts that the Sudanese government in Khartoum has funded rebels like Yau Yau for more than 20 years, including ethnic minorities in Jonglei where communities were pitted against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the former guerilla group that has become the new nation’s official army.
He said that the army will try to contain Yau Yau’s forces, despite flooding across Jonglei state.
“For these elements of Yau Yau, the SPLA is going to handle them, as well as SPLA will try and close the borders and stop the the source of arms," said Aguer. "The source of arms is Khartoum definitely, as the leaders are based in Khartoum.”
The government says that Murle youth joining Yau Yau has nothing to do with alleged abuses that U.S.-based Human Rights Watch and the U.N. Mission in South Sudan documented last week.
From reports carried out over short visits, human rights researchers documented alleged cases of rape, beatings, and torture, including simulated drowning to force people to give up the names of gun-holders in Pibor county.
Colonel Aguer said that teams had quoted “politicized sources” and did not verify information with the army. South Sudan’s government spokesman, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said that the alleged abuses had been overblown and the rights groups had not shared specific information including their sources with the government.
“It is the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens, so the inflammatory reports that sometimes come out -- we need cooperation to be done between the local authorities and those human rights groups that we have given all the freedom to visit these areas and to report on issues that are verified," said Benjamin. "That is all we are asking for.”
Aid groups in South Sudan say that the move by Murle youth to join rebels was predictable, and that unless the peace efforts between ethnic groups are restarted soon, Jonglei could again be the center of violence in South Sudan.