Following a return of relative stability in Marial Lou, UNMISS conducts air patrol as part of consistent engagements to maintain peace
WARRAP - “When we see a helicopter with the United Nations logo, we feel happy that they are checking in on us,” said Ting Nyin Kuc, a resident of Marial Lou in Warrap state, South Sudan.
When intercommunal conflict spiraled in the area last year, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) swiftly deployed peacekeepers to reduce tensions and protect civilians.
From September 2021 to May 2022, peacekeepers from Bangladesh and Nepal kept a watchful eye, patrolling constantly, engaging with local authorities and communities as well as conducting reconciliation dialogues to bring feuding parties together.
It was a daunting task because the area was isolated and road connectivity, negligible. The rainy season did not make things easier but committed Bangladeshi peacekeepers leveraged the mission’s air assets to deploy rapidly.
The sustained presence of Blue Helmets and concerted efforts by all partners slowly stabilized community relationships.
The impact of UNMISS interventions: Schools and hospitals, which had shut down when violence was at its peak, reopened; more than 100 community dialogues were organized culminating in three conferences, including one in Greater Tonj where more than 1,000 participants reached consensus on a peaceful way forward; and people could go about their daily lives without fear.
Given the improvement in security conditions and services, peacekeepers finally wrapped up their temporary presence last month.
However, to ensure that harmony continues to prevail, the UN Peacekeeping mission recently sent an air patrol to the area, which was welcomed by communities.
“UNMISS peacekeepers sheltered and protected us in our most vulnerable moments,” stated Mr. Kuc. “We miss them and are glad to see them again.”
The visiting patrol team engaged with community leaders, youth, local officials, and women’s representatives to gauge the current environment and were assured that calm and stability continues.
"The numerous dialogues, consultations and community engagements, jointly spearheaded by UNMISS and the government, have been of great help in starting and consolidating peace negotiations between conflicting groups,” revealed Wol Molook, a community leader.
“It’s led us to this point of peace; our children are safe,” he added.
For Malor Awuer, another traditional leader, the true barometer of the current situation in Marial Lou was the ability for representatives from different communities to sit together in the spirit of compromise and chalk out a course of action that benefits people.
“A few months ago, many of us who are sitting in front of our visitors from UNMISS today were at odds but look at us now. We are here, we are at peace,” he explained simply but eloquently.
The visiting UNMISS team also officially handed over the land it utilized during its temporary operation in Marial Lou to local authorities.
Gerald Njoroge, Field Administrative Officer in the mission’s Kuajok arm urged communities to continue building social bonds with one another, during the handover ceremony. “We are very appreciative of the hospitality extended by host communities to our peacekeepers,” he added.
The visit ended on a bittersweet note as community members and local authorities alike unequivocally requested ongoing support from UNMISS to heal the wounds of the past and move forward harmoniously, since protracted conflict has left residents traumatized.
"At this time, there is no longer war, conflict, or fighting,” stated Mr. Awuer. "However, our hearts need healing."