Cablegate: New Year's Eve Attacks in Akot, Atar and Marial Lau
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SUBJECT: NEW YEAR'S EVE ATTACKS IN AKOT, ATAR AND MARIAL LAU
REF: 09 STATE 118217
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1. (SBU) Summary: On December 31, there were three serious attacks
in the areas of Atar in Upper Nile State, Akot in Lakes State and
Marial Lau in Warrab State. The attacks appear to be unrelated and
involve a wide range of actors to include the Sudan People's
Liberation Army (SPLA) and Lam Akol's SPLM-DC militia group. The
UN, Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) and Sudan People's
Liberation Army (SPLA) are sending assessment teams to all areas as
well as humanitarian assistance to respond to the needs of the
communities. The number of casualties is not yet known; however,
initial reports in Marial Bal claim 140 dead and 90 wounded. End
Atar: Shilluk Attack Dinka
2. (SBU) On December 31, approximately 500 armed Shilluk youth from
Panyikang County, Upper Nile, allegedly attacked a Dinka settlement
in Atar in the early morning hours. The UN reports that the attack
resulted in three deaths (two Dinka and one Shilluk) and thousands
displaced. The Dinka community has moved west of Atar, while the
Shilluk community had moved into Malakal town. An assessment team
comprised of UN staff and Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS)
officials traveled to Atar late on December 31 to review the
situation and bring humanitarian supplies.
3. (SBU) The motive for the attack is still unclear. Diane de
Guzman, UNMIS Senior Civil Affairs Officer told us the attack was in
retaliation for an attack by the same Dinka community against the
Shilluk one month ago. However, SPLA Director for Military
Intelligence, Major General Zakarias told us that in the weeks
leading up to the attack, a number of dead bodies were found
floating in the river that separates the two communities, first one
Dinka body and then a week before the attack, two Shilluk bodies.
Zakarias explained that some believe Lam Akol's SPLM-DC (a militia
made up predominantly of Shilluk and some Nuer) mobilized the
Shilluk community to attack the Dinka in retaliation for the deaths.
However, Zakarias told us that there is still no evidence to date
about who committed the murders.
4. (SBU) UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande
explained that she was notified of the attack just two hours after
it occurred from Minister of Interal Affairs Gier Chuong Aluong.
Gier told the UN that the attack was an attempt to assassinate him.
Gier had planned to travel to Atar, his hometown, that day, but
belatedly postponed his plans. Zakarias added that the SPLA also
believed that it could have been an assassination attempt by SPLM-DC
disguised as a tribal attack. He explained that the first place
attacked in the fighting was the house that Gier had planned to stay
during his visit.
Akot Erupts in Fighting Between SPLA and Dinka
5. (SBU) The UN was notified of fighting between an SPLA detachment
in Akot, Lakes State, and the local Dinka community on December 31.
There are conflicting reports on when the fighting actually began.
The UN reports that fighting began on December 28, while the SPLA
states that it started on December 30. Thus far, the SPLA reports
that 19 SPLA soldiers were killed and seven civilians. There are
reportedly many more SPLA wounded, who have been transported to
Yirol, Rumbek and Juba, some by the UN. Gier visited Akot on
January 4; however, the UN has been unable to get an assessment team
on the ground but hopes to send a team on January 6. Zakarias told
us that the SPLA also plans to send Major General Bol Akot Bol,
Director of Special Operations (the unit that oversees civilian
disarmament) on January 6 to investigate the events. The SPLA also
plans to undertake a joint investigation with the police to review
the events that took place and prosecute those responsible.
6. (SBU) There are discrepancies between the UN and SPLA versions of
events in Akot; however, both report that the clashes began after
SPLA soldiers attempted to disarm three Dinka youths. The UN
reports that the SPLA fired on one youth, wounding him before
shooting him point blank and killing him in front of his comrades.
Zakarias reports that another youth refused to disarm and started
firing on the SPLA soldiers, who retaliated and killed the youth.
This killing however sparked the ensuing clashes
7. (SBU) Following the initial incident, members of the Dinka
mobilized and attacked the SPLA in two locations on December 30,
explained Zakarias. The Dinka community first attacked the SPLA
barracks in Akot, killing four and wounding five. Another group
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then ambushed the commanding officer's vehicle on the road from
Yirol to Rumbek, killing two soldiers and wounding three, including
the commanding officer. On December 31, the commanding officer
pulled all SPLA in the area back to Akot for security reasons. A
group of SPLA south of Akot were attacked near Makur Agarr, where
the Dinka paramount chief resided, while pulling back, and
retaliated. In retaliation for the SPLA deaths, some SPLA units
burned tukuls in the eastern area of Akot.
8. (SBU) Civilian disarmament has been underway in Lakes State for
six months, raising tensions between the SPLA and Dinka communities.
Zakarias reports that over the six months, approximately 36 SPLA
soldiers have been killed by the local community and that the local
community and state officials have done nothing to investigate or
prosecute those responsible. De Guzman told us that the SPLA
element in Akot is mostly Nuer and former Southern Sudan Defense
Force (SSDF) who were integrated into the SPLA, but are still viewed
as an enemy force from Unity State.
Marial Lau - Nuer Attack Dinka
9. (SBU) On January 4, Vice President Riek Machar called UN Resident
Coordinator Lise Grande to report that a Nuer group had attacked
four different Dinka communities (payams) in Marial Lau on December
31. Information is still unconfirmed, as no assessment has been
completed in Marial Lau, but initial UN reports claim that 140
civilians were killed and 90 wounded. Additionally, Grande told us
that 31,000 cattle were stolen and thousands of people displaced
from the area. The UN plans an assessment on January 6.
10. (SBU) The cause for the attack by the Nuer perpetrators is still
unknown. De Guzman speculated that the attack could be retaliation
for a recent Dinka raid into Unity State. The UN reports that some
of the Nuer in the attack wore uniforms, and De Guzman pointed out
that the area is close to Machar's home area where many of his
former troops reside. Zakarias confirmed this and explained that
some of Machar's troops were never integrated. However others in
the UN report that the attackers were from Mayom, Unity State--where
Paulino Matiep is currently residing with his forces--and wore
11. (SBU) Comment: These attacks may portend more serious security
concerns in the coming months as elections approach. To date there
is no evidence that the involvement of the SPLM-DC and possibly
other militia and non-integrated groups is supported by northern
elements that wish to destabilize the south during this volatile
period. When assessment reports are finalized, we will have a
better sense of what drove these recent clashes.