Some 25,000 young men who make up a tribal militia known as the 'White Army' are marching toward a contested state capital in South Sudan, the Information Minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, announced on Saturday, December 28, 2013.
He told the Sudan Tribune newspaper that the estimated 25,000 youths were from the Lou Nuer sub-clan of the tribe of former Vice President, Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon. Machar is leading the mutiny against President Salva Kiir Mayardit following a failed coup on December 15, 2013. The militia men, who were about 48 km from Bor on Saturday, were said to be armed with light weapons and heavy machine guns. The Minister said the estimate came from intelligence sources from within the group.
The UN Spokesman in South Sudan, Joe Contreras, expressed concerns about the news, saying the White Army does not have military training, the BBC reported yesterday, December 29, 2013. He however assured that the UN was going to organise surveillance flights to ascertain the group's actual size. According to the BBC, the White Army inspires fear in South Sudan. Its members rub ash on their bodies to protect against bullets.
The loose grouping of armed youth from the Nuer ethnic group was partly responsible for the 1991 Bor Massacre in which at least 2,000 people were killed. Then, the White Army fought alongside Riek Machar who broke away from the SPLA that was fighting the Khartoum government. In 2011 and 2012, a new incarnation of the White Army went on the rampage, killing hundreds of civilians from the Murle ethnic group.
Seeking an end to the nearly two-week crisis in which an estimated 1,000 people have so far been killed, East African leaders on Friday, December 27, 2013, announced that South Sudan had agreed to a "cessation of hostilities" against forces loyal to Riek Machar. Fox News reported that Machar rejected the announcement, saying any cease-fire had to be negotiated by delegations from both sides.
Meanwhile, the defected Fourth Division Commander in Unity State, Major Gen. James Koang Chuol, told the Sudan Tribune over the weekend that Sudanese rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement, JEM, descended from the Nuba Mountains and were occupying Parieng County in apparent intervention in the conflict. Gen. Chuol warned that he will attack JEM if it did not pull out within two days.