|Published September 2001
THE WAR ON TERRORISM:
STATES AND THE SPLA IN SUDAN
President George W. Bush's 20 September
2001 address to Congress and the American People, responding
to the horrific atrocities of 11 September, declared a war
on terrorism. The point was also made that it was not just
terrorism associated with Islamic fundamentalism that was
to be targeted, but all forms of terrorism. One can only but
hope that President Bush's declaration, the result of an unprecedented
tragedy, may also result in a solution to one of the world's
longest-running civil wars, the conflict in Sudan.
The United States must be encouraged as part of its international
campaign against terrorism to end the terrorism central to
the Sudanese conflict. It is now also clear that Sudan has
sought to cooperate in the fight against terrorism for several
years. Washington is uniquely placed to do so given its previously
close relationship with the Sudan People's Liberation Army
(SPLA), a group intimately associated with terrorism within
Sudan. The American government definitions of terrorism and
international terrorism are clear. The relevant definitions
come from Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f
Civil war has raged off and on in Sudan since 1955 and has
been fought between various Sudanese governments and rebels
in southern Sudan. Since 1983 the principal rebel protagonist
has been the SPLA led by John Garang. It is clear that the
SPLA has been guilty of widescale terrorism. The list of "noncombatant
targets" that have been murderously attacked is all too long.
These attacks have included the widespread murder of Sudanese
men, women and children, the murder of international relief
workers, the shooting down of civilian airliners, indiscriminate
mortaring and rocketing of urban areas in southern Sudan,
resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths, attacks on food
relief barges and fishing boats on the Nile, the torture and
execution of southern political opponents, and the laying
of landmines. In 2001, the SPLA escalated its campaign and
attacked civilian oil targets, claiming to have inflicted
"heavy casualties". Africa Watch also reported that the SPLA
has also been involved in terrorism in Ethiopia. In one instance,
the SPLA murdered over 500 Ethiopian civilians in the lower
Omo valley of south-west Ethiopia.
The Murder of Civilians
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan
has provided graphic evidence of the SPLA's premeditated use
of terrorism against civilians. He documented an incident
in which John Garang's SPLA forces attacked two villages in
Ganyiel region in southern Sudan. The SPLA murdered 210 villagers,
of whom 30 were men, 53 were women and 127 were children.
The Special Rapporteur stated that:
"Eyewitnesses reported that some of the victims, mostly
women, children and the elderly, were caught while trying
to escape and killed with spears and pangas. M.N., a member
of the World Food Programme relief committee at Panyajor,
lost four of her five children (aged 8-15 years). The youngest
child was thrown into the fire after being shot. D.K. witnessed
three women with their babies being caught. Two of the women
were shot and one was killed with a panga. Their babies
were all killed with pangas. A total of 1, 987 households
were reported destroyed."
The United States government is clearly aware of this particular
incident, having mentioned the massacre, and the SPLA's refusal
to account for the incident, in its own Country Reports
on Human Rights Practices The Ganyiel incident is sadly
only one of many similar instances of SPLA terrorism. Amnesty
International, for example, recorded another incident in which
SPLA forces lined up 32 women from the village of Pagau, 12
kilometres from Ayod in southern Sudan, and then shot each
once in the head. Eighteen children were reported to have
been locked in a hut which was then set on fire. Three children
who attempted to escape were then shot. The rest burnt to
death. In Paiyoi, an area north-east of Ayod, Amnesty International
reported that 36 women were burnt to death in a cattle byre.
Nine others were clubbed to death by the SPLA. While the methods
of killing them may be different there is no difference between
the terrorism inherent in the Ganyiel massacres and the American
Shooting down of civilian airliners
The SPLA has also admitted the shooting down of civilian airliners
within Sudan, incidents involving considerable loss of civilian
life. In one instance the SPLA shot down a civilian airliner
taking off from Malakal in southern Sudan, killing sixty people.
Two days later the SPLA announced it would continue to shoot
down civilian aircraft. A further civilian aircraft was shot
down with the deaths of thirteen passengers and crew.
The shelling and rocketing of civilians
The American government's own Country Reports on Human
Rights Practices, have documented examples of SPLA terrorism,
including that the SPLA "conducted indiscriminate mortar and
rocket attacks on the southern city of Juba, killing more
than 40 civilians and wounding many others. These attacks...seemed
intended to terrorize the inhabitants". In another instance,
the American government stated that the SPLA had continued
the random shelling of Juba, killing over 200 southern civilians.
SPLA shelling of civilians has been a feature of the past
decade. Similar shelling was reported as recently as 2000.
In February 2000, for example, Reuters correspondent Rosalind
personally witnessed: "a pillar of smoke rising from the besieged
town of Mayom, subject to daily bombardments by rebels as
the try to advance eastwards to the oil development."
The murder of aid workers
The SPLA has also murdered dozens of humanitarian aid workers
from the mid-1980s onwards. In one attack alone, for example,
SPLA gunmen killed 23 relief workers, drivers and assistants.
In 1998, the SPLA murdered relief workers in the Nuba mountains,
and in 1999 the SPLA murdered four aid workers assisting with
a Red Cross project in southern Sudan. Senior American officials
have confirmed that: "The SPLA-Mainstream has engaged in.torturing
or killing relief personnel". In May 2001, SPLA gunmen shot
at an International Committee of the Red Cross airplane, killing
one of the pilots.
The use of landmines
The SPLA has also callously and indiscriminately used landmines
within civilian areas. Washington's Sudan Country Report
on Human Rights Practices, for example, documented that
the SPLA "indiscriminately laid land mines on roads and paths,
which killed and maimed.civilians." An Africa Watch report
stated that SPLA "land mines are planted at well-heads, on
roads, near marketplaces, and close to injured people, so
that would-be rescuers are blown up."
The New York Times has describing the SPLA as "brutal
and predatory", stating that they "have behaved like an occupying
army, killing, raping and pillaging" in southern Sudan, and
calling SPLA leader John Garang one of Sudan's "pre-eminent
war criminals". Eight US-based humanitarian organisations
working in Sudan, including CARE, World Vision, Church World
Service, Save the Children and the American Refugee Committee
also publicly went on record to state that the SPLA has: "engaged
for years in the most serious human rights abuses, including
extrajudicial killings, beatings, arbitrary detention, slavery,
etc." Human Rights Watch has additionally commented: "The
SPLA has a history of gross abuses of human rights and has
not made any effort to establish accountability. Its abuses
today remain serious."
Amnesty International has also documented that the SPLA is
ruthless in preventing civilians from leaving its areas for
refuge in government-controlled areas. In the Nuba mountains,
for example, the SPLA imposed a "civilian exclusion zone"
around areas it dominated in order to deter civilians leaving.
Those leaving were murdered by the SPLA. African Rights has
spoken of: "a nihilistic attitude towards civilians and existing
An even more chilling account, which directly echoes that
of African Rights, is provided by Dr Peter Nyaba, a member
of the SPLA National Executive Committee. As a former SPLA
military officer, Nyaba is in a unique position to describe
the behaviour of the SPLA within those areas of Sudan in which
it controlled or operated within: "Once they were deployed
at the war front, their first victims became civilians, whom
they.terrorised, brutalised, raped, murdered and dehumanised."
Turning American military support for the SPLA into pressure
The United States government is in a particularly strong position
to dramatically address SPLA terrorism in Sudan. `The Clinton
Administration's military, diplomatic and political support
for the SPLA has long been an open secret. In its programme
of supporting the SPLA, tens of millions of dollars worth
of covert American military assistance has been supplied to
the rebels. This has included weapons, landmines, logistical
assistance, and military training. The British newsletter
Africa Confidential has previously confirmed that the
SPLA "has already received US help via Uganda" and that United
States special forces are on "open-ended deployment" with
the rebels. It is clear that according to the United States
government definition of terrorism and international terrorism,
that the SPLA is a group guilty of both terrorism and international
terrorism. The Bush Administration's stated desire to see
the end of the funding of terrorist acts must also address
the fact that the United States Congress this year voted millions
of dollars in assistance to the SPLA.
Rather than supporting violence the American government could
be a crucial peace-maker within Sudan. Reversing previous
encouragement of the SPLA to continue its violence, Washington
could assist in bringing all sides to the conflict towards
a negotiated settlement of the conflict, based on the offers
of an internationally-monitored referendum on the status of
southern Sudan and all-party roundtable constitutional talks
that are already on the table. There is no excuse for continuing
the war. The Khartoum authorities have repeatedly called on
the rebels to accept a ceasefire and enter into peace talks.
Khartoum has also repeatedly called upon the international
community to urge the rebels to seek a peaceful solution to
the conflict. It is a matter of record that it is SPLA rebels
who continue to prolong the Sudanese civil war despite considerable
international pressure on them to accept a ceasefire and enter
into peaceful negotiations. While acknowledging the referendum
offer, the SPLA has been reluctant to act upon it.
In keeping with its declared war on terrorism, it would be
comparatively easy for the Bush Administration to dramatically
de-escalate the awful conflict in Sudan. Washington could
go further than just ending any financial and military assistance
and actively discourage the use of terrorism by the SPLA.
It can also play a central part in pressurising the SPLA into
taking the Sudanese peace process seriously. This is an opportunity
the United States cannot afford to miss.
- The term terrorism means premeditated, politically motivated
violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational
or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an
- The term international terrorism means terrorism involving
citizens of the territory of more than one country.