Interview with Muluk Ruya

By Nanne op ‘t Ende
March 27, 2006

Muluk and I met at Koia in 1998 (see: the stench of dead bodies). He was a second lieutenant at the time, working with the engineers. After the signing of the cease fire he became a liaison officer for the SPLA working with the UN Demining Action Service. He has resigned from the armed forces now, and he has set up his own demining company.

Muluk Ruya

My name is Muluk Ruya. I was born in 1969 in Eldro-lorai; Nugorban Payam; Kadugli County. Before I joined the SPLM/A I was a student in Enyemme Intermediate school.

I joined the SPLM/A in 1987, together with some of my class mates, like Geneif John al Fudel, Eliyas Ismael, Yusif Ayoub and others. We walked from the Nuba Mountains up to Ethiopia by crossing the river Nile; it took about 45 days and then we reached. I attended my general training in Beilfam, Ethiopia. At that time Mangisto Mariam was in power.

After the training we came back [to the Nuba Mountains] in March 1989. We were five battalions under commander Abdulaziz Adam el-Helu as we arrived in Fama and Koronko in July. Our battalion was deployed in the Western Jebals; our task force was called Takali under commender Ismeal Khamis Jelab - now he is the Governor of South Kordofan State/ Nuba Mountians Region. Through the years I reached the rank of Colonel.

We met at the battle of Koia in 1998. I was very happy when I saw you: you were covering what was happening in the Nuba Mountains at the time of war. And to meet you now, in the time of peace, is very, very nice.

At that time I was leading a coy in the 21st Battalion. I moved from Kurchi to Koia, where we prepared to attack our enemy – who has now become our friend since we signed peace with them. We were not prepared for the battle but our forces had the moral to do it.

Commander Ismael Khamis Jelab was controlling all the forces; he had the regional command at that time. Many officers participated in the attack. We had Majlos and Mudir and many people. And Brigadier Aized was there; he has become Brigadier; he’s now commanding the remaining forces. He’s around now, you can visit him if you like.

If you want to talk about the preparation of the SPLA at that time: we were in a bad condition, because those of Riek Michar had a faction against the SPLM. Exactly in 1997, 1998, we were in a bad condition. We were trying mainly to keep our enemy inside [the garrisons]. And then we had to prepare ourselves for more forces, but we managed to drive them out. While logistical support was too bad, the forces would have high moral, because they were committed.

We started with an artillery bombardment early in the morning. I think we started the attack around two o’ clock in the day. The enemy was thrown out that time, and he didn’t come back. But at the end of the attack the area was mined and some soldiers were wounded by anti-personnel mines. Actually three of them died while another four were injured. SLIRI [Sudan Landmine Information and Response Initiative] is now busy cleaning the place, but they are working too slowly.

I thought they cleared Miri quite effectively?

No, SLIRI didn’t do Miri; that was RONCO, [an American company with a team] from Mozambique.

What happened to you through the years?

At the time of the battle of Koia, I was a second lieutenant. I was leading many, many fights. About one year after Koia, I was promoted to first lieutenant. In 1999 I got wounded in my arm, in a place called Delabaya. It is okay now. I was promoted again, to lieutenant Colonel, and later to Colonel. We continued fighting up to the signing of the cease fire agreement in 2002.

I became a monitor in the JMC [Joint Military Commission], spending six months with them. We were selected to work with them and we had to take different courses. We got a course here in Kauda, as SPLA officers. After 21 days we were graduated. Norwegian [Brigadier] General [Jan Erik] Wilhelmsen of the JMC came personally and he made a representation together with Commander Abdelaziz [Adam el Hilu]. After that we joined together: three officers from the Government of Sudan; three officers of the SPLA and two or three international [observers]. We took one sector; using one car, working as a team.

Was it not very difficult to work with your former enemy?

We followed [the program] that was signed by our leaders. For us officers, it wasn’t difficult. We had our orders: that we were supposed to do this. In the beginning everybody was resisting [to show their own people that they were not just handing things over]. And it would be difficult sometimes to visit certain locations. If there were violations, you would want to make an investigation. Maybe sometimes the Government of Sudan would hide information; they might keep it – that was difficult. Or to enter in some garrisons that you hadn’t been before.

Anyway: we started, and it became easier. We started to trust each other as human beings. Still, in our systems of principals, I think we do not trust each other [enough] to hand over our commitments. I won’t [just abandon] my principals: I want to have my freedom. But I can stop fighting, and then I can look after my people, because they are suffering. The cease fire agreement was a humanitarian cease fire; to let the international [organizations] bring food to the local people, because there was too much suffering.

That is also why we are committed to what we have signed. We bring a message to our people: they must know why we are fighting. You can see the changes; there were many people who ran at the time, but now they are coming back. This is what we were saying: at the political level, we are still fighting for [the same goals]. but as human beings, we trust them. Most of the people that were fighting us, they are our brothers. That’s why we want them to understand [why we were fighting].

I think the JMC was good: it was successful and friendly, it was helping people. Even the commanders of the SPLA, if they needed to go any place, I could assist them with transport by helicopter. If someone was sick, they could take care – they were good with the people in Nuba.

After those six months I was assigned to the UN Demining Action Service, a part of the UN that is working with landmines. We were based in Kadugli; the section was called the Central Region Mine Action Office. I was a liaison officer between the SPLA, the Government of Sudan and the international organizations. I worked with them from 2003 up to 2005 when I was reassigned. It was a good time; we were doing the coordination and we were located together with the JMC.

The work of the Office consisted of locating the mines?

First of all we had to reach an agreement with the forces, who had information about the mines. Secondly, we appealed to the authorities: “you, authorities: you give priority to these areas, to sign our agreement, so any [humanitarian or commercial] organization can clear this land.” After that the liaison officers of the Government and the SPLM would sign; the UN would sign, and then we would give it to another humanitarian organization to clear the area. Once they had cleared it, we would go there to make sure that everything was good, so the people could use that land. This is what I was doing up to 2005.

Wasn’t it very difficult for both parties to say “I have my landmines here and here”?

No, no, no – this is… we were fighting many times. Hahahaha. There were some officers from that side… We would go to meetings facilitated by the JMC; they tried to bring people together like they had been doing in the monitoring. But it was very hard to hand over all your maps, or to agree that this or that road will be opened. Yes, it was very difficult. When the road was important, we both would benefit from it, but the Government was [often] resisting because they had more mines [than the SPLA]. There are landmines all around the garrisons that they occupy: anti-personnel mines. The SPLA had been laying anti-tank mines on the roads to [hinder] the logistical support or the progress of the enemy, and so on. It was difficult, but we reached an agreement; an agreement just to [show the international community our good will].

Under the pressure of…

Yeah, yeah: we said we wanted to do this, and after that we came together – after the cease fire and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). We can see [some] changes, now that we have the integrated forces: our forces can enter areas that were not under SPLM control before. That is why we agreed to be part of the integrated forces. The Government of Sudan will withdraw from some areas, and the people want to return to their farms. We had many challenges, but I think it’s getting better now.

The people are being informed about the landmines. When we did the mission, we would also do Mine Risk Education (MRE), to teach them. We had a small team in the UN; it would inform other organizations that certain areas could use MRE. Then another team could go there to organize a meeting, to tell the people: “don’t go there and there; if you find any Unexploded Ordnance (UXO): don’t touch it”. We did this many times. The MRE teams are targeting the returnees as well.

Are landmines still making new victims in the Nuba Mountains?

Yes, some., but it’s difficult to tell. [The Landmine Monitor Report 2006 mentions 79 casualties in 2005 for the whole of Sudan: 16 killed and 63 wounded. These data are considered to be very incomplete; the only reliable statistics come from Southern Kordofan, were 48 of the 79 casualties were reported, NotE.] Some mines were laid randomly, without maps. Sometimes the SPLA would send out a small group of soldiers to plant a mine somewhere, but somebody might come and the soldiers would withdraw, [leaving the mine behind somewhere]. On the side of the Government, they might enter a place, like you have seen in Koia. Then they burn it, and just before the SPLA chases them out, they lay landmines. Nobody will say: “yes we have some landmines here or there…”

What we are doing now: we have something called a general survey, that determines generally whether an area is mined or not. After that you have a technical survey with a small team with detectors, to reduce the area where the mines are [as exactly as possible].  Once you have determined the places where, you can make a demarcation. This is done by Swiss Foundation Demining (SFD): they are doing the demarcation. They have a small team that gathers information and then reduces the area where the mines could be, or the UXO. They mark it with tape or whatever, and then they give the information to the UN. The UN will look for somebody who is going to clear the mines. At least they will know where to work, and the people will now [where they can’t go].

Many people say the clearing of landmines is progressing only slowly.

Very slowly: even the roads [are still dangerous], only a few are safe. Sometimes you may use a road you’re not sure of. For one year nothing happens and then suddenly a mine may blow up, like what happened here in Kauda. People were driving down that road for one year [without any problems], and one day a mine blew up. People started blaming each other: “the Government is mining; the SPLA is mining”… it was an old mine, it had been in the middle of the road [all the time, undetected].

You see: all the organizations working here now are too slow, and I don’t know why. Sometimes you may give them a task… like what happened in an area called Kallandi. In 2003 we gave it to an organization called DCA: Dan Church Aid, from Denmark. Up to now, the mines are there. They did a survey and after two weeks they had a holiday, and then the rains came, and… Some NGOs work without information; without good communication with the local people. Some people are just trying to have an area [assigned to them], so they can write a proposal and catch some funds; they will use the funds [in some way or another], but they won’t do [the job].

And then you have some commercial demining companies: they signed contracts with the UN, and so on. I think they are doing a better job; [at least] they are quick, whether that is good or not… I have no further information. If someone tells you: “you’re supposed to clear from here up to there, and we will [pay] you this much”; [of course] you go quickly. There is Way Com, and you have RONCO. RONCO opened the road from Um Dorein to Talodi, and from Talodi to Liri, to Malakal. They have a big machine, and dogs and detectors, so they can work fast. They also cleared the road from Abyei to Bahr al Ghazal.

This is why we are requesting funds to get in a big machine, to clear the areas where people want to return to. The farming areas, and some areas that were occupied by the military forces during the time of war. But what we really want, is to have some capacity building on the ground, for the owners of the land. So when the NGOs have gone, we will still be able to do the work ourselves, without people always having to look for funds. The Government could also participate; it could give some support.

I have resigned, and I have set up my own organization, called Nuba Mountains Mine Action Sudan. It is registered in Nairobi and I am the director of this organization in progress. I had many meetings and I have a partnership with Way Industry, a Slovakian company [specialized in demining]. They have a big machine to do the work, and we succeeded in getting one. But now we are looking for transportation to get one demining unit to Sudan. Maybe the UNDP Slovakia would fund us. If they honor our request, we might receive the machine in May. It’s a very big machine: it can do much more work than people with detectors.

So your organization will start working as soon as the machine arrives?

Yes. I have an agreement with the UN Mine Action. The UNDP can support a program for training local staff to operate that machine, and then we will start soon. I will work in the Nuba Mountains, but also in Abyei and the Blue Nile. Maybe we will even have two teams of manual deminers, if we can get it funded. But the UNDP has already agreed to support me by funding the training.

As a former liaison officer you must have some idea of where the landmines are…

I know most of the places, yes.

You will benefit from your knowledge then.

Sure. When I start, I will really benefit, because I have the knowledge and I have many friends with the army. I was a commander with the engineers. I have been with the infantry, and I have also been a commander of the engineers for some time.

Let me get this right: you were placing the landmines?

Yes, and now we are going to get them back again.

Money is always a problem: are you going to operate as a commercial company?

No, the first year I will work as a humanitarian demining organization, because I think there will be a lot of funds coming to Sudan. The donors will look at the capacity you have, and [if it is sufficient,] they will support you. But after one year maybe I will turn to Upper Nile, to the oil areas. Some companies there are looking for deminers. But first we will do humanitarian work, to help the people. Of course the donors can participate also.

Interviewed in Kauda on March 27, 2006.

PS: on October 5 Muluk told me by phone that the demining machine was due to arrive in Juba withing a couple of days.


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