Earlier this spring, a Foxnews.com article described two horrific massacres of civilians in the world’s newest nation, South Sudan. The massacres were attributed to government troops. One terrible slaughter allegedly took place in Pajok, Eastern Equatoria, on April 4. The other alleged incident by the seemingly insatiable South Sudan Army, the SPLA, took place in Wau, Western Bahr el Ghazal, April 9.
FoxNews didn’t add “allegedly,” but there is no actual evidence that these attacks took place in the manner described. FoxNews, like other media, has recirculated fake South Sudan news and talking points used by concerned individuals in Congress, the United Nations Security Council, humanitarian organizations, and others considered above reproach. In the past three years that South Sudan has been enmeshed in conflict, fake news geared to undermine the sovereignty of South Sudan has been accepted without question in the name of making peace.
Any serious investigation would prove the falseness and at times, outright absurdity, of many claims against South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the South Sudan government. But such investigations require standing against the accepted moral equivalence. One such widespread claim, that the government denies humanitarian groups access to starving people, has been easily exposed as a lie with photos of piles of approved access forms – over 25,000 for the past 18 months – in the SPLA headquarters.
The same effort to discover the truth should be utilized every time the South Sudan government is accused of human rights violations. But for the most part, the media accepts the prevailing wisdom that the government is the perpetrator of the violence. This is definitely the case with FoxNews April 13 article.
Fake news begins in the title: “South Sudan’s silent slaughter: Dinka massacre unchecked by regional, international groups.”
Silence? Every week a new (i.e. reworked version) news story, Congressional briefing, or UN report accuses the South Sudan government of slaughter, tribal-based ethnic cleansing, deliberate starvation of the people, etc. If that is “silent” and “unchecked,”the Sudanese of Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile State who really are being targeted for elimination by the Islamist Government of Sudan (Khartoum) would love to experience such silence!
Then there is the phrase “Dinka massacre.” The United Nations, some US politicians and human rights organizations, the media, the rebel armed combatants under former Vice South Sudan President Riek Machar and his equally-complicit wife, Angelina Teny, and the political opposition known as the “former detainees” accuse the South Sudan Government of tribalism, i.e. favoring the Dinka tribe.
Calling the government “Dinka” and criticizing it for not having “fair” representation of all tribal groups is a gross misrepresentation. It ignores that the Dinka, the largest South Sudanese tribe, are not even close to being equitably represented in the government because President Kiir so desires to be inclusive. Fair representation according to tribal population would actually ensure a supermajority for the Dinka who are over 35% of the population. That’s approximately twice as big as the next largest, Machar’s Nuer tribe, who nevertheless hold currently 75% of the top Cabinet Minister positions.
Implying that there should be fewer Dinka fuels the tribalism of South Sudan’s rebel militias that are perpetuating the conflict against the nation’s civilians and armed forces. This encourages rebels that they have outside support to keep fighting and to overthrow Kiir and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
After such a breathtaking title, the body of the Foxnews.com article reports on the alleged incidents in Pajok and Wau using some ten sources for information. But of the ten, six are anonymous “independent sources,” and four are anti-government SPLA-IO (Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition) rebel commanders. The sources’ inaccuracies and slanderous statements about each incident, taken at face value by the author are so numerous that this article will focus on Pajok.
Here is what the FoxNews web story reported about Pajok:
Government militias loyal to the president. . . entered the town of Pajok and began killing and raping men, women and children, one observer said.
Opposition forces led by the former first vice president, Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, estimate that more than 200 innocent civilians were killed in Pajok.
The report continues that the “tribal army burned down several buildings” and “indiscriminately shot at” civilians, including women and children. It adds that “a security officer in South Sudan told Fox News” that children were crushed by tanks, primary school girls were raped and killed, and “primitive government soldiers” cut the limbs off a grandmother.
“No one was spared from the soldiers’ wrath . . . even the tiniest of children,” Foxnews quotes the “observer.” The independent observer sounds suspiciously like Nicholas Osobi, a “Revolutionary Columnist” with the anti-government websiteNyamilelepedia.
FoxNews also heard from Lt. Colonel Lam Paul Gabriel of the rebel army SPLA-IO that the South Sudan Army dumped the bodies of those that they killed in the stream “for fear of discovery.” He also said “They have burned down civilians’ houses and looted all they found inside and also killed all livestock, including chickens.”
But evidence*, imagery from a reconnaissance flight over Pajok by an actual investigator, shows Pajok completely clear. There was no sign of bodies dumped into the Atepi River. “Two hundred bodies” would have floated to the surface within 24 hours, if, in fact, the water was deep enough first to hide them.
Moreover, the flight imagery reveals no burned huts or buildings, and no signs of mass burial or funerals. If, as Osobi later backtracked in his own column, the government realized that bodies would float and so burned them instead, flight imagery would have shown evidence of burning.
Whenever such incidents arise, the South Sudan Army leaders want to discover the truth and bring justice. In addition to acquiring the flight imagery of Pajok, the investigator spoke to South Sudan Army officers and soldiers about the town. Not only was there no reported fighting among any soldiers, but all the photos in the Foxnews.com article were visually inaccurate:
The burning hut in the photo is a Dinka hut, not one that would be in Pajok.
The city pictured has electric power lines. Pajok does not have power lines.
About 30% of South Sudan’s population has smart phones, yet no other images have surfaced from this incident.
Out of 200 alleged deaths, the only photo produced is of a man lying next to a motorcycle.
In the photo showing a fire, people are standing and watching the object burn. No one was running away; no bullets were flying.
And there is not any evidence that this, recounted in the FoxNews article, happened in Pajok: “Toddlers were thrown into the river live. . . The lucky ones had their heads swung against poles and walls . . . at least leaving them dead by the time they have been thrown into the river.”
But this sort of atrocity could have been taken straight from the playbook of SPLA-IO leader, Riek Machar. His SPLA-Nasir did this to children in Bor in 1991 during an actual massacre – of Dinka people. SPLA-Nasir was the armed combatant group he formed when, supported by the Islamist regime in Khartoum, he deserted the SPLA during the north/south war.
The FoxNews article also unquestioningly quotes an SPLA-IO spokesman ‘Deng.’ Deng told Foxnews.com “the government is trying to extinguish the non-Dinka South Sudanese . . . Government forces are ‘100 percent committed to exterminating non-Dinka South Sudanese in an effort to declare Dinka, who constitute less than 20% of the total population, as the only recognized citizens of South Sudan.”
One could say that it is irresponsible to take a virulently anti-government rebel’s words at face value, but since that is what the UN, Congress, and others do – FoxNews is only following the same fake news train. Apart from the wildly false and dangerous claims about the government’s attitude towards non-Dinka tribal groups, it takes very little effort to discover that Deng’s claim that the Dinka are less than 20% of the population is a lie. Even a cursory glance at Wikipedia will show that the Dinka are approximately 38.8% of the population, as explained above in the discussion of the FoxNews article’s title. It seems that the rebel IO group has Alinsky disciples for political advisors. They falsely accuse others of that which they themselves are guilty, and they “freeze the target,” polarizing and isolating the Dinka.
Finally, in the report on Pajok, the FoxNews.com story never refers to the South Sudan government’s army by its name, the SPLA. The article’s sources only refer to the legitimate defense force of the nation as “South Sudan’s military,” “government militias,” “tribal army,” and “primitive government soldiers.” The rebels, however, are referred to throughout the article by the name that Machar stole from the SPLA, the SPLA-IO.
In 1991, when Machar deserted John Garang’s SPLA that was fighting steadily against the Khartoum regime and joined that Islamist regime, he also stole the SPLA acronym. Throughout the nineties, his “SPLA-Nasir” caused more to die in what was then southern Sudan than did the Khartoum regime’s forces themselves.
Khartoum has always believed in the doctrine “Use a slave (black African) to kill a slave” and they used Riek Machar to wage jihad in southern Sudan. Now, fake news that portrays the South Sudan government of Salva Kiir as one of killers and tribalists is aiding the Islamist regime’s continued jihad against South Sudan. And those that choose to believe and act on the fake news without doing any intelligent investigation are, whether knowingly or not, collaborators in an effort to destroy the breakaway nation.
*The flight imagery of Pajok will be available in the near future.
(Originally published at Juicy Ecumenism, a blog of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.)