Presence of UN Peacekeepers brings relief and relative security to residents of greater Tonj

(By Stanley Mcgill/Filip Andersson)

Following recent intercommunal clashes in greater Tonj near Kuajok, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan is continuously patrolling the area and engaging in other activities to restore peaceful coexistence between feuding residents.

“Since they began patrolling our communities after the recent cattle raids, we have regained some sense of confidence and security among ourselves,” says Cuei-Chok district administrator Magar Kuac in Mayan-Gok County, one of several affected areas.

Last month, in a first step to mitigate the situation, the peacekeeping mission established a temporary operating base in Tonj. This decision was made after weeks of suffering, fear and insecurity among residents of Mayang-Gok, Ngapagok, Wanh Alel and Tonj, caused by a succession of eruptions of violence. These outbursts of aggressive animosity have cost several lives and injuries and have displaced hundreds of people. Numerous heads of cattle have been raided in the process, further exacerbating tensions.

Michael Mabior, Deputy district administrator of Cuei-Chok, also in Maynang-Gok, told a visiting UN team consisting of both military and civilian personnel that the issues that continue to cause fighting are land disputes, cattle raiding and revenge killings, mainly among the youths.

“The problems will be solved when the court is formed, but if the government cannot establish it the problems will persist,” he said, referring to a special arbitration court expected to be put in place to settle land disputes and other conflict-fuelling issues.

Fortunately, the presence of UN peacekeepers has yielded some tangible results.

“Now we women can walk to the market in Tonj and back with little fear of being attacked by unknown people,” says Mary Madut, a trader in Mayan-Gok, adding that this energy-sapping yet vital 40 km trek was impossible to undertake for several weeks, leaving sorghum, chickens, charcoal and other products unsold and their producers a lot worse off than usual.

In Ngapagok, residents are also hailing the visibility of the blue helmets, saying that it has contributed to restoring relative calm. “Isolated incidents” of cattle raiding still occur, but overall the situation is significantly better than before.

“Guns must be collected from civilians and other unauthorized users if we are to have peace in this country. This [disarmament] should be the priority of the transitional government of national unity,” says Angelina Deng, a women’s representative in Ngapagok.

UNMISS Force Commander Lieutenant General Shailesh Tinaikar has paid two recent visits to the conflict-prone area. Addressing community leaders in Wanh Alel, he urged them to opt for dialogue instead of violence.

“As leaders you must try to bring your communities together, build confidence among yourselves and find amicable solutions to the problems that continue to divide your people,” he said.

Lieutenant General Tinaikar stressed that UN troops will remain on the ground till a sense of security has been achieved.