The South Sudanese Army is being readied to deploy on a small-arms disarmament program in Jonglei state. The government hopes to disarm groups of cattle raiders that have made 2012 a violent year for the new country.
The Southern People's Liberation Army is being set to deploy in areas of Jonglei state this week, in an attempt to disarm and collect some 20,000 small arms from the Murle and Lou Nuer tribes.
Both groups have been involved in a violent string of retaliatory cattle rattles, which the United Nations says has affected more than 120,000 people.
The disarmament campaign was initiated by South Sudan President Salva Kirr. He plans to use the Army to collect the weapons either voluntarily or by force.
The SPLA spokesperson Phillip Aguer says the goal is peaceful, but the army is ready to use force, if necessary.
“In case there are people who are dodging and trying to hide their weapons, the army will intervene and do the fighting or, if they are running from the army and the police, we will go in,” said Aguer.
South Sudan has received criticism from both the United States and the United Nations. They feel conducting the campaign now will only increase tensions and that the government should strive for reconciliation before disarmament.
But Aguer says the time is now.
“If you wait for the population to achieve it’s goals and objectives, you will have people attacking themselves and dying," said Aguer. "So it’s better to do the same process concurrently.”
Jonah Leff is a consultant for the Small Arms Survey - an independent organization monitoring international weapons trafficking - and has recently been on the ground in Jonglei state. He feels the campaign will certainly end in violence.
“I’ve heard from leaders of both communities, both the Lou Nuer and the Murle, that they will resist a forcible disarmament, which means that they will fight back," said Leff. "So I would expect the SPLA to respond with technicals [technological advanced weapons]. They’ll have greater manpower, such as heavy machine guns and possibly even tanks.”
Leff also fears the possibility of disarming the tribes unevenly, which may leave some vulnerable to attack.
“Without proper security provision by the SPLA or security forces, the rival tribe would most likely come in and take advantage of the situation,” said Leff.
In the past, disarmament programs in the area have resulted in violence and have proved to be largely unsuccessful.
“In 2006 and 2008, they collected a fraction of the weapons and quickly thereafter, the communities had rearmed anyways," said Leff. "So I’m not sure that, if they don’t provide any alternative security, they can collect as many weapons as they want and the communities will go and rearms themselves and the situation will be as it is.”
For now, the rural skirmishes continue to trouble the new country.