HSBA: The Conflict in Upper Nile State

4236The Conflict in Upper Nile State

Describing events through 8 March 2016

On 2 October 2015, the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, issued an administrative

decree that divided South Sudan’s ten states into 28, plunging the country’s

precarious peace process into chaos. While negotiations between the Sudan People’s

Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the SPLM/A-in-Opposition (SPLM/A–

IO) are ongoing, Kiir’s new map of South Sudan threatens to be an unsurpassable

obstacle to achieving sustainable peace in the country.

Nowhere is the tension over Kiir’s decree more apparent than in Upper Nile. Shilluk

anger at the proposed division of the state has already led to increased support for

Johnson Olonyi and the unseating of Kwongo Dak Padiet, the Shilluk reth (king),

who was perceived as being aligned with the Government of the Republic of South

Sudan (GRSS). An increasingly ethnicized conflict between the Shilluk and the

Padang Dinka is now unfolding in Upper Nile.

On 16–18 February 2016, Padang Dinka militia fighters and members of the SPLA

attacked the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) protection of

civilians (PoC) site in Malakal, with the assistance of some of its Dinka inhabitants.

The fighting claimed the lives of at least 40 Shilluk and Nuer internally displaced

persons (IDPs) and injured at least 90. Many of the camp’s 15,000 dwellings were

razed, although the Dinka and Darfuri areas were left undamaged. This attack was not

an isolated event, but part of a concerted campaign by the Padang Dinka military and

political elite of Upper Nile to push the Shilluk off the east bank of the White Nile,

which is contested by both groups, and to cement control of an area that is to be called

Eastern Nile state, in line with Kiir’s decree.

A military overview

Militarily, SPLA and SPLA–IO positions in Upper Nile have remained relatively

stable since August 2015. The largely Nuer south is still under rebel control, aside

from government forces in Nasir town, Longochuk county, and in northern Ulang,

close to the border with Nasir. In southern Upper Nile, the SPLA remains entrenched

in several of the region’s towns, while the SPLA–IO controls the rural areas. As the

region has not been of strategic military importance over the last year, it remained

quiet until 7–8 March 2016, when SPLA–IO forces clashed with the SPLA around

their base at Nasir. Further information was not available at the time of writing.

Forces aligned with the GRSS control the east bank of the White Nile—including

Akoka, Baliet, Malakal, Melut, and Renk counties—and thus have control of both

Malakal, the state capital, and Paloich, the sole productive oil field in South Sudan

and the country’s financial lifeblood. Maban county, in the east of the state, largely

remains under the control of local Mabanese militias and the SPLA, although

September–December 2015 saw intermittent altercations as SPLA–IO forces moved

through the area. According to Small Army Survey