Civil-military dialogue boosts confidence-building efforts in Magwi
Worries over unrest flaring up once again are fading away among the civilian population in Magwi in Eastern Equatoria, following a civil-military dialogue initiated by the United Nations mission in South Sudan.
“We the women have borne the brunt of this war with our children. As peace has now been ushered in, we want to recover our losses. We also want unity between us, government and opposition forces,” said Apio Anna, a women’s group leader, underscoring the need to accelerate the reconciliation process.
The signing of the revitalized peace agreement has rekindled citizens’ hopes for peace, with many refugees returning home from camps to rebuild their lives. However, there is a need to bridge the widening gap of mistrust between the army and the civilians.
In an effort to do so, the UN mission, in collaboration with the Inter-Religious Council, recently conducted a series of civil-military dialogues in several towns, including Torit and Magwi.
The two-day forum brought together civilians and about 50 commanders from government and opposition forces with the aim to build trust and confidence to foster peaceful co-existence.
“All dialogues conducted in Torit have had beautiful impacts, especially concerning the freedom of movement of civilians,” confirmed Marko Miljevic, a representative of the United Nations mission. “There has been a reduction in conflicts between the army and civilians. It is obvious from the number of people who have returned to their homes in the area,” he added.
The security situation has improved, and even more so as community leaders continue to engage with military forces on the question of citizens’ safety.
“The members of the community have not been laid back. They have taken time off their schedules to meet armed forces hiding in the bush and encourage them to return home,” said Philip Hakim Bongomin, speaker of counsellors for the county-level in Magwi.
“About three groups have so far returned and some of their commanders are here with us. This gesture alone has brought great relief,” continued Bongomin.
The 2013 conflict claimed several lives in the Magwi area, uprooting many people from their homes into refugee camps in neighbouring Uganda. Several women were also raped and properties looted by armed groups. The circumstances surrounding the six-year conflict stirred up feelings of distrust and fear among civilians.
“It is our duty as the army to protect civilians and their properties. In this vein, we have been cooperating with opposition forces in information-sharing. In addition, we have instructed our men to respect the human rights of civilians because a new peace deal has been signed,” said Major General Victor Odong Christopher, leader of the government forces in the area.
“We have been involved in social activities with the communities. For instance, we have participated in football matches and even in community funerals to mourn their dead, then donate food to bereaved families. This is all to enhance our relationship with the communities,” said Colonel Abonga Henry Okee, leader of the opposition forces.
“We have also initiated a feeder-road clean-up campaign as part of our contribution to mend the broken relationship with civilians,” Okee added.
The civil-military dialogue in Magwi concluded with a number of resolutions, such as training of military officers to enhance their skills on the job, restricting the wearing of uniforms and the carrying of guns to soldiers on duty, and disarming civilians carrying illegal arms.