JUBA, Sudan, June 20 (Reuters)
South Sudanese authorities have begun to collect thousands of guns amassed by civilians during decades of war to try to end tribal conflicts which claim dozens of lives each year, officials said.
Since a 2005 north-south peace deal ended Africa's longest civil war, efforts by the semi-autonomous southern government to disarm civilians have claimed an estimated 1,500 lives because they took weapons from some tribes leaving them vulnerable to neighbouring communities who were still armed.
Southern Internal Affairs Minister Paul Mayom said on Thursday few had given up their guns voluntarily and a new army- backed campaign was needed. He said they would simultaneously disarm communities nearby to avoid bloodshed. "(This) new approach is comprehensive disarmament, by removing all the illegal guns," Mayom said. "If you don't do it we'll take it by force." During Sudan's north-south civil war which has raged on and off since 1955, tribal communities were given or bought weapons to protect their lands and cattle. But with peace, gun law has remained paramount in many parts of the south.
The new campaign will differ from earlier attempts that targeted specific communities. In 2006 the Swiss-based independent research group Small Arms Survey estimated some 1,200 civilians and 400 soldiers were killed in a campaign to disarm the Lou Nuer tribe as their neighbours retained weapons. But this year the civil authorities will give communities warning and then record, collect and store the guns in a more organised fashion to avoid similar bloodshed. At least 911 rifles have already been collected in one area, one official said. But others warn that any army involvement could backfire.
"There could be violence," John Baloch, a member of one of the still-armed tribal communities said. Cattle raiding and revenge attacks have sparked cycles of violence in the largely pastoralist south with deep tribe and clan divides. At least 20 people were killed in one incident in May but numbers are often higher. "Without disarmament there can be no peace," said William Chan Acuil, deputy of the southern government's humanitarian wing. The north-south war, complicated by issues of religion, oil, ideology and ethnicity, claimed 2 million lives and forced more than 4 million to flee their homes.
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