Civilians, soldiers clash leaving 127 dead in South Sudan

Major General Lul Ruai Koang, above, said the fighting erupted on Saturday as security forces carried out an operation to disarm civilians in an area which has seen deadly inter-communal clashes. (AFP)
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Updated 12 August 2020

Civilians, soldiers clash leaving 127 dead in South Sudan

  • The violence in Tonj began after several armed youths got into a disagreement with soldiers
  • An initial armed confrontation was brought under control, but local youths subsequently mobilized for an attack on the army position

JUBA: Clashes between soldiers and civilians during a disarmament exercise in the central South Sudanese town of Tonj have left 127 dead, the army spokesman said Wednesday.
Major General Lul Ruai Koang told AFP that the fighting erupted on Saturday as security forces carried out an operation to disarm civilians in the area which has seen deadly inter-communal clashes.
More than six years after a civil war broke out in the country, and in the absence of a functioning government, many communities are flush with weapons, which they keep for protection or defense against cattle raids.
The violence in Tonj began after several armed youths got into a disagreement with soldiers. An initial armed confrontation was brought under control, but according to Koang the youths mobilized others for an attack on the army position.
“On the latest, the number of those killed, I can confirm to you that it rose to 127,” Koang said, adding that 45 of those killed were security forces and 82 were youths from the area.
A further 32 soldiers were injured.
Koang said two military officers involved in “triggering the clashes” had been arrested, and that the situation in Tonj had calmed down.
South Sudan is emerging from a six-year civil war that left 380,000 dead and millions displaced, and disarmament is a major stumbling block.
Experts have warned against operations that coerce people to lay down their guns without proper planning, as some communities could find themselves unable to protect themselves after their weapons are removed.
“The clashes should be an opportunity to rethink the approach to disarmament. What is the point of removing guns without addressing what drives folks to arms themselves?” Geoffrey Duke, head of the South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms, said on Twitter.
“We can take guns away this week & they buy a new one next week (as) long as they still see the need to have (one).”


US bans palm oil imports from Malaysian production giant over labor abuse claims

Updated 45 min 13 sec ago

US bans palm oil imports from Malaysian production giant over labor abuse claims

  • American customs agency probe into Malaysian government-linked firm FGV revealed indicators of forced and child labor, physical and sexual violence
  • The allegations of abuse related especially to migrant laborers who make up the company’s main plantation workforce

KUALA LUMPUR:  The US has banned palm oil imports from Malaysian production giant FGV Holdings after a probe revealed forced labor practices at its facilities.

Human rights groups said the abuse of agricultural workers had been rife across the whole sector for years.

The American ban came into effect after a year-long investigation by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) into FGV, which revealed indicators of forced and child labor, as well as physical and sexual violence, said Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of the CBP’s Office of Trade.

FGV is a Malaysian government-linked company and one of the world’s largest palm oil producers.

In a statement, the company said it was “disappointed” with the decision by the US which had come at a time when it had been taking “concrete steps over the past several years in demonstrating its commitment to respect human rights and to uphold labor standards.”

The company said the issues raised by the US agency had “been the subject of public discourse since 2015 and FGV has taken several steps to correct the situation.”

It added: “FGV became a participating company of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and is currently implementing a long-term and comprehensive action plan under its affiliation to the FLA that comprises a number of initiatives to further strengthen various aspects of our labor practices such as our recruitment process, human rights training programs, working and living conditions, as well as grievance mechanisms.”

The allegations of abuse related especially to migrant laborers who make up the company’s main plantation workforce. According to FGV data from August, it had 11,286 Indonesian and 4,683 Indian workers.

Malaysia’s Minister of Human Resources M. Saravanan said on Thursday that he was unclear about the details of the ban and had only found out about plans to impose it several days ago from the US ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir. However, he had not expected the ban to be implemented “so soon.”

“As mentioned by the ambassador, these issues are mainly in Sabah and Sarawak (two states on Borneo island), especially in the plantation sector. Action will be taken,” said Saravanan, adding that the ban was “not a good sign” for the country which was heavily reliant on exports.

He said that the Ministry of Human Resources would work closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs which had much of the jurisdiction over foreign labor.

The timing of the ban is particularly unfortunate for Malaysia’s economy, which has been affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Palm oil exports from Malaysia — which constitute over a third of the world’s exports of the commodity — are one of the country’s key revenue sources.

“FGV would need to step up efforts to increase exports to other countries while addressing the US government’s concerns on the forced labor issues,” Prof. Yeah Kim Leng, economic studies director at Malaysia’s Sunway University, told Arab News.

He said that other palm oil companies would also need to take heed of the causes leading to the ban and address those concerns if they wished to avoid the US’ big stick.

Malaysian rights activists pointed out that they had been highlighting the issue of forced labor in palm oil supply chains for years.

In a statement, Glorene Das, director of Malaysian migrant rights group Tenaganita, said: “We demand all palm oil producers, including FGV Holdings, to take proactive steps to ensure human and labor rights of workers in plantations are respected and upheld at all time.

“Malaysia, as one of the main producers of palm oil in the world, must be an example of fair labor practices rather than be known and cited for exploitative practices.”