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South Sudan Army Denies Accusations of Abuse, Torture

  • Alex Pena

A Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) soldier watches on during a parade celebrating their 29th anniversary in South Sudan's capital Juba, May 16, 2012.
NAIROBI - The Sudan People's Liberation Army is denying accusations it has used violence, torture and rape during a disarmament program designed to reduce tribal violence in Jonglei state.

Organizations operating in the region say the SPLA committed the abuses last week while disarming members of the Murle community.

This week, SPLA spokesman Colonel Philip Aguer said cases of abuse were minimal. “In the whole process, we have reported about 25 cases, only five have been civilians. The rest were soldiers amongst themselves,” he said.

Aguer says while they are investigating the accusations, the disarmament program in Jonglei will continue as planned. He says since March, when the program began, the army has collected more than 10,000 weapons. He considers the program a success.

“It is only when the government monopolize(s) the carrying of guns and use of force, when you can create a sense of security in individuals and groups under the umbrella of government post,” noted Aguer.

The SPLA began the disarmament program after a series of deadly cattle raids and clashes between the rival Murle and Lou Nuer communities. Fighting during the past few years has killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands more.

But the organizations protesting the disarmament, local and international, say the SPLA is using violence to stop violence.

The allegations against the SPLA include beatings, intimidation, killing, torture and rape. The groups have called for the government of South Sudan to halt the disarmament program until violence is reduced and a credible peace process in underway.

Despite the accusations, the spokesperson for the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, Koudier Zerrouk, says the mission will continue to support the disarmament program. “We have reported a certain number of violations, but these are alleged violations for instance, and this was conveyed to the government here in Juba," he stated. "They are aware, and they acted on it by the way. The SPLA in few cases, for instance, have arrested soldiers who were involved in abuses cases, harassment, or rape, and they have arrested soldiers and they are being investigated.”

Disarmament in Jonglei state is nothing new. According to the organizations, this style of voluntary and forced disarmament has been tried five times in the past six years - unsuccessfully.

Last month, leaders from the rival communities met with the goal of ensuring the process continues with as little violence as possible.