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Rising tensions between IDPs and host community in Equatoria

Tensions are high between displaced cattle-owning Dinka and their host community in Mundri and Maridi counties of Equatoria, southern Sudan, over access to grazing land and water, according to humanitarian sources. Between 10,000 to 15,000 Dinka internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Bor County, Upper Nile, were currently living in a number of camps in Mundri and Maridi, with an estimated 200,000 head of cattle, according to Daniel Kiptugen, peace-building coordinator with Oxfam in southern Sudan. Tensions had arisen between the Dinka and the local Moru communities, because the cattle - a manifestation of Dinka wealth - were destroying local crops and fields, a task force mandated to investigate the conflict, said in a draft report. "The main problems in Mundri are between cattle and crops, not people. It is because the cattle destroyed the crops of the indigenous people, and that is what they depend upon for their survival," a local council of elders reported to the task force. Originally, the Dinka, who were displaced to the area in 1999 by Sudan's civil war, were welcomed by the Moru chiefs, church leaders, elders and authorities, and were given areas to settle there. But as the numbers of their cattle increased, they started moving about in search of grass and water, thereby becoming unpopular with the Moru. Finally, both communities agreed that the Dinka should return home with their cattle by April 2004, but "no progress" had been made so far, Kiptugen told IRIN. When they will return remains unclear. The exodus had already been delayed from 2003, because the Dinka claimed there was not enough water and grass en route to sustain their cattle. "The IDPs are asking for security from the [rebel] SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] to go back. They have also asked for support to move, [requesting] local NGOs for drugs and plastic sheeting," said Kiptugen. He added that it was unclear whether people would be prepared to move without the requested support. Meanwhile, local farmers whose fields have been destroyed say the Dinka must move, and that they have identified routes for them to make the 150-km journey. A local cattle evacuation committee was formed in 2002, headed by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) secretary in Bor, to assist the IDPs to return. In May 2002, Salva Kiir, the second-in-command of the SPLM/A, ordered that all cattle camps in the two counties be moved to Bor immediately. That month, three IDPs were killed by locals, aggravating the tensions between the two communities. Since then, some Dinka from Yirol had moved home, said Kiptugen, but the IDPs from Bor had stayed put. A local chief, Sosten Makako, commented: "It is unfortunate that we are talking about cattle movement over and over again. We have held several meetings and workshops in regard to the repatriation of the Bor cattle, to no good results. Orders were given and trodden underfoot." Some local people believed that the cattle camps belonged to prominent SPLA commanders who did not wish their cattle to be returned to Bor, humanitarian sources told IRIN. The community task force investigating the conflict reported that in mid-April tensions were high after the killing of an IDP in Ladinwa. In a reprisal attack, a group of IDPs had invaded a local village, looting properties, raping women, beating people and "committing all kinds of atrocities", it said. Over 35 head of local cattle and 100 goats were reportedly stolen. The task force reported that eight murders related to the conflict had taken place since 2001, which had not been investigated by local authorities. Girls have also reportedly been abducted, while looting and stealing of cattle is commonplace. Too many arms were available in the camps, the task force reported. Armed forces, or soldiers who had left the SPLA, were also present in the cattle camps, which was adding to the tensions. "The presence of the armed forces in the cattle camps escalated the whole problem. It would have been better to keep them in the nearest garrison," said the draft report. "The law is loose in the county; whenever a crime is committed, there is no serious action and law enforcement agents in the county are under threat from cattle owners, who are better armed than the police," said the council of elders. "It was a mistake from the beginning not to integrate the two communities under the administration of the two counties," commented an SPLA commander in Yei, Ayuen Alier.
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