Government-allied militias conducted "extensive campaigns" of destruction in the Shilluk Kingdom of southern Sudan in March and April 2004, destroying homes and in some cases whole villages, according to the US-led Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT).
Village elders in Datang told CPMT investigators that militiamen from Warjok garrison had begun burning the homes of suspected sympathisers of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and associates in the garrison town of Datang on 28 March, said a report issued last week. Numbering between 700 and 800, and supported by two machine-gun-mounted Land Cruisers, they had also burned grain stocks and medical stores.
CPMT investigators had counted 52 burnt homes in the village, it said. The soldiers also reportedly used sticks to beat any civilians who tried to grab their personal belongings as they fled.
On 1 April the militias returned to the village to engage in further looting.
"Numerous" civilian witnesses had corroborated the sequence of events in Datang, said the CPMT. They had "emphatically" identified government militia troops under the command of army officers and militia commanders as their attackers, saying they were mostly Nuer from Warjok military garrison, but also included some Shilluk.
The attackers reportedly came in three groups: the main force from the direction of Lelo; a barge transported two machine-gun mounted Land Cruisers employed by Cdr James Othow; and three other commanders, Gabriel Tanginya, Joseph Mobutu and Thomas Mabor, were transported from Malakal to Datang by government military motorboats.
According to the CPMT, several witnesses pointed out that Tanginya and Othow both held the official rank of brigadier in the Sudanese army.
Asked about the attack, the army commander in Datang, Lt Hamdun Da'ud, recalled that militia had come to the village on 28 March, but said they were "only passing through". He could not comment on the force size, or identify any army or militia personalities, the CPMT reported.
He categorically denied that motorboats or vehicles had arrived in Datang on or around 28 March, and said that "drunken bandits" had burned the homes, claiming that civilians sometimes wore army uniforms.
In a separate incident in the Shilluk Kingdom on 4 June, militias shot two fishermen, the CPMT reported this week. One of the men was killed and the other injured in the separate incidents in Nyilwa and Nyiyar, both near Atar.
A tribal leader in Malakal told CPMT investigators that indiscriminate shootings of civilians along the White Nile river had caused great alarm among the Shilluk, and was preventing their displaced - who number tens of thousands - from returning to their homes.
The Shilluk Kingdom became destabilised after 25 October 2003, when Lam Akol, the leader of a government-allied militia, the SPLM/A-United (SPLM/A-U), re-defected from the government side to the SPLM/A. Until then, the area had enjoyed the enviable distinction of having stayed out of Sudan's civil war.
As a result of a power vacuum created by Akol's realignment, Khartoum brought in militiamen to the area to support the SPLM/A-U rump faction, now led by James Othow.
Some of Akol's Shilluk forces did not support his move back to the SPLM/A, and were divided over whether or not to fight their former partners. For the first time in many months, government forces reportedly became embroiled in the conflict, while the militias razed an unknown number of villages to the ground, looting and killing along the way.
The numbers of displaced remains unclear, but local sources say at least 100,000 were involved.
The US-backed CPMT investigates attacks against civilians or civilian property/possessions. It became operational in September 2002, following negotiations between the government of Sudan and the SPLM/A in March 2002, which resulted in an Agreement to Protect Civilians from Military Attack.