Conciliatory efforts underway in Pageri County, as civilian-military dialogue seeks to encourage returns
The South Sudanese towns along the Juba-Nimule road are largely deserted. Beyond the Amee Junction in Pageri County, what remains are damaged schools, health centres, and tukuls (traditional houses) with charred or missing roofs – all testament to the destruction that has visited public and private property, including the offices of the county headquarters.
The Madi community, indigenous to Pageri County, fled the area to neighbouring Uganda following the political crisis of July 2016. More than a year and half since the conflict began, they are yet to return home, despite repeated calls by the government for them to do so.
“The thing that brought about division was the intimidating language of the SPLA followed by harassment, arbitrary arrests, improper investigations, and failure to verify sources of information,” says Taban Augustine, a Madi Community member, attending a Civil-Military dialogue in Nimule last week.
The dialogue, hosted by the Imotong State Government through its Peace Commission, with support from UNMISS, aimed to provide a platform to address the issues preventing citizens from returning home from refugee camps in Uganda.
There are mainly two issues: first, is uncertainty, related to the presence of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers in the area. The soldiers are alleged to have destroyed the community’s homes and property. Secondly, cattle that moved into the area from Jonglei are still roaming the land that the Madi farmers traditionally cultivated, destroying crops.
“These issues inflicted fear in the heart of the community members, causing them to take refuge for safety [sic],” says Taban Augustine, describing the strained relationship between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the local population.
The dialogue in Nimule was also seen as an opportunity for the two parties to chart a way forward, and to co-exist.
“The biggest achievement of this workshop is that it’s cementing the relationship between the army and the civilians,” he says, acknowledging that the dialogue had helped to build trust between the two parties.
In turn, the army has made some commitments, too.
“The building of the relationship between civilians and the military is paramount and the civilians are paramount. Let the civilians return home and the army will take full responsibility to protect the civilians,” said Colonel Kulang Tarif Chuol on behalf of the army, calling on citizens to return home.
Community members also stressed the importance of moving the cattle from the land in Pageri County back to Jonglei, and received reassurances from the government that the process, whose preparations were already underway, would begin within the next week.
Abdul Kamara, the UNMISS Torit Civil Affairs Team Leader emphasized the responsibility of all parties to make the community feel safe, while reiterating UNMISS’ commitment to peace and reconciliation efforts.
“UNMISS will continue to support these efforts that will bring people together; that will bring people to engage and discuss whatever differences they have in a very peaceful way, because we believe that is the way forward for this country,” he said. “We would love to see people come back home and settle back, but [they have to] settle back in dignity,” Kamara further explained.
The dialogue concluded with two symbolic acts: a traditional dance performed by the Madi community, with SPLA leaders joining in the dance to show their good will; and a prayer, with the two parties joining hands to mark the first step towards reconciliation.