February 9, 2016 (JUBA) – South Sudan lawmakers from the Shilluk ethnic tribe in Upper Nile state have warned of war outbreak over unsettled land disputes, if left unaddressed.
There are already fears such statements may undermine the implementation of the peace deal, which government and armed opposition have signed and declared commitment to honour it despite sharp division over the president’s order.
Speaking at a news conference at the parliament Tuesday, the leader of the minority in the national assembly, Onyoti Adigo who was flanked by five Shilluk MPs, warned that the annexation of Malakal to East Nile State could lead to conflict, if not resolved.
“We hope that the Jieng (Dinka) of Padang and their plotters understand it well that if this illegal occupation of Malakal and other Collo areas is not revoked, it would be a recipe for non-stop deadly war,” Adigo told reporters at the national legislative assembly premises.
He claimed the government of the newly established East Nile State has suspended all the civil servants from his ethnic group and replaced them with new employees from the tribes which are part of the new state, majority of whom area are allegedly from Padang, a section of an ethnic Dinka in the area.
Adigo said Malakal belongs to his ethnic group and that government must know that such action would be responded strongly, accusing the governor of the new state, General Chol Thon of being obsessed with power given to him by the presidential establishment order making Malakal town a capital of the new state.
“The unnecessary aggression by the governor must be responded to strongly. We condemn the behavior of the governor of the so-called Eastern Nile state in the strongest terms possible,” he said.
The governor, he added, was “obsessed with the power given to him up to the extent of continuing to cause havoc to the Collo and Nuer government officials whom he has now dismissed illegally from the civil service.”
He accused the government of reluctance to respond to numerous requests by officials and political leaders from his ethnic groups seeking audience with the president over the matter.
“Unfortunately the government is not ready. For many times we have been calling to meet with the president to discuss these issues. The government will be ready for somebody talking the same language with them”, he said.
Observers have expressed fears that lack of political will from both sides, specifically from the president himself to pay attention to the issue of Malakal and several other areas contesting his decision may escalate into a full scale conflict if the situation not promptly addressed. Malakal town, while it has been a multi-ethnic town inhabited by Dinka, Nuer, Collo and other tribes, has also historically been the capital of the defunct Upper Nile state or formerly greater Upper Nile region or province.
But while no other tribes have claimed territorial ownership, members of ethnic Shilluk and Padang section of ethnic have over more than two decades try to lay claims in which one tries to portray the other as the one claiming the ownership of a traditional land belonging to other.
The October 2015 presidential establishment order separates Malakal from West Nile State, which is predominantly inhabited by members of ethnic Shilluk (Collo) and making Malakal as capital of East Nile, which is inhabited largely by the Padang Dinka tribe.
Many peace activists are advocating for revision of the presidential decision in a way that would make the Shilluk live in peace in one state with Dinka and abolish West and East Nile states and make them state.