South Sudan’s army launched Monday a “successful” attack on the forces of Dak Kueth, a self-proclaimed prophet from Jonglei State, the military said on Tuesday.
Initial reports said the 19 members of Kueth’s militia were killed but this was later revised up to 29. The army captured to people armed with AK47s and 22 guns, including 2 PKM light machine guns in the Monday attack which occurred at 2pm attack, the army said.
Kueth fled to Ethiopia in March 2012 after South Sudan’s army (SPLA) launched a civilian disarmament campaign after a series of violent cattle raiding-related clashes in South Sudan’s largest state.
The SPLA surrounded a group of armed young men who act as Kueth’s bodyguards on 23 March but the group refused to surrender, leading to a battle that killed at least five people. After this confrontation, Kueth and his followers crossed into Ethiopia to handing over their weapons.
The head of the disarmament campaign in Jonglei State, Lt-General Kuol Deim Kuol, said that the clash with SPLA forces based in Akobo County occurred in the Wechlual across the border in neighbouring Ethiopia.
During the engagement with Kueth’s militias, the SPLA lost five soldeirs, while nine others sustained bullet wounds and were evacuated to Juba for medical care. The injured soldiers are in a good condition, Kuol said.
The head of Operation Restore Peace said that the two militia men captured with AK47s were now being held at the SPLA barracks in Akobo. “They are in good condition and SPLA will take measures against them” he said.
Kueth and the remainder of his men are fleeing towards Nasir County with the SPLA pursuing them, Kuol said.
The SPLA say that over 15,000 weapons have been collected since the disarmament campaign was launched nine months ago. However, many communities complain that they are now vulnerable to attack from neighbouring groups who have managed to avoid to the process.
Human rights reports have criticised the SPLA for its treatment of civilians during the operation. A human rights official from the United Nations in South Sudan has been forced to leave the country after an August report was highly critical of the army.
Kuol said on Tuesday that the SPLA was able to protect all its citizens and asked people to continue to cooperate with the military in order to achieve peace in the state. He called upon citizens to provide information to SPLA to enable them to respond incidents of insecurity.
Jonglei’s Pibor County is also suffering from a insurgency led by a disaffected member of the SPLA, who failed to become an elected official for the area in 2010.
Dak Kueth is thought to have influence among people in Uror County, according to local officials. Known locally a “magician”, Kueth does not use spears in his spiritual practices unlike the “spear masters” of other states in South Sudan.
People who have escaped Kueth’s group after being abducted claimed that he has political influence in Uror County administration. Nurah Borotus, a woman abducted on 1 January 2012 from Pibor County and taken to Uror County managed to escape on 23 January to Waat, the headquarters of Uror. She claimed that she was taken to Kueth’s compound by police.
It is unclear whether Kueth still has such influence after the disarmament campaign was launched in March and a peace was signed in May between Jonglei’s tribal groups to end the cycle of cattle raids, abduction and violence in state that has killed 2,000 people in the last two years.