Sudanese tribal relations turn bitter under pressures of war

Law and order broke down almost completely in the southern Sudanese town of Wau last year. Children were slaughtered, as were dozens - if not hundreds - of adult civilians. Because Wau has been largely cut off by the war, the details of the tribal violence are only now becoming clear and public.

Three recently released reports - one by Amnesty International, a worldwide human rights group; one by the United States State Department; and an independent report compiled in Sudan - detail the events. And recent Monitor interviews with members of the tribes involved and with Western sources who were in Wau at the time, tend to confirm the scope of violence revealed in these reports. The interviews also show the depth of resentment that has grown up between the two tribes.

In Sudan, a nation where civil war pits government troops against southern rebels, most of the violence in Wau took place between two southern tribes with no previous record of intertribal hostilities.

This fighting - unlike traditional friction between some tribes - represents a relation turned sour under the pressures of war. It may leave a bitter legacy. The south could be left with ``squabbling and feuding factions under the leadership of sectional and tribal war lords,'' says William Ajal Deng, former governor of Bahr el Ghazal region, which includes Wau.

The rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) is composed primarily of members of the region's largest tribe, the Dinka. Some southern tribes, including the Fertit, resent and fear them. And they claim the SPLA has killed Fertit frequently, during raids for food.

The Fertit, mostly farmers by trade, live in small towns and villages, including Wau which is a main center for distribution of relief supplies. Many Dinka civilians have fled to government-held towns in the south, seeking food relief and safety from the war. In Wau, large numbers of Dinkas found themselves face to face with members of a tribe grown bitter toward them.

The reports say that when the tribes clashed, once in August and again in September, as many as 1,000 people may have been killed in the first incident and perhaps 2,000 in the second.

A government investigation into the events has not been completed. Sudan's minister of defense stated in an interview, that ``there was no massacre.'' A Sudanese official of the Fertit tribe who was in Wau also says that people were rounded up, but no massacre took place.

The three recent reports, however, use ``massacre, mass extrajudicial executions, and slaughter'' to describe the events.

The person who compiled and wrote the independent report, which is called ``Sudan's secret slaughter,'' is a Westerner with extensive experience in Sudan. He says that, in Wau ``the Army abdicated to the Fertit militia'' to a great extent.

The Fertit, like a number of southern tribes, have been given arms by the Sudanese government, enabling them to form militias. The government says this is done to protect them from rebel attacks. But the militias also are accused of raiding, killing, and kidnapping civilians, mostly Dinka, say Sudanese government, private, and Western sources in Sudan.

There are now, however, reports that the Army in Wau has taken steps to curb the militia, and violence appears to have waned. And there are hopes that the tribal wounds will heal. At the height of the killing last year, elders of the Dinka, Fertit, and another local tribe, the Jur, assembled to try to halt the violence.

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