Peacekeepers meet suffering soldiers at Maridi training centre, waiting to be deployed as single army
Roman Mungu looks disappointed. Deep in thought. Always sad. Even when his fellow soldiers are laughing.
He has his reasons.
“I thought my life would have changed for the better by now, but it has been over a year and I haven’t been able to see my children or send them any support. Whenever I think about this, it hurts a lot,” he explains.
Roman Mungu is a trainee at the Maridi Integrated Training Centre, one of 1,700 soldiers gathered here. According to the provisions of the revitalized peace agreement signed in September 2018, they will graduate and be deployed as part of one national South Sudanese army instead of belonging to different armed groups, often divided along ethnic lines. In fact, that should have happened a long time ago.
But as a team of peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan visits the training centre, the process seems to have stalled. The troops find themselves without basic supplies, not knowing when they will be deployed.
To survive, says Mungu, many have opted to integrate with the local communities surrounding them.
“We go out and do some casual work like cutting firewood, cutting grass for building tukuls, digging pit latrines and molding bricks to get some cash for survival,” he says.
The situation is far from ideal, according to Leticia Mariano, a human rights officer serving with the peacekeeping mission.
“To avoid any kind of conflict to arise, the livelihoods of the soldiers must be guaranteed. They need to receive their salaries and have their basic needs met. We have received reports that soldiers here are struggling, resulting in clashes with civilians, who are also having a hard time to make a living,” she says.
Rabbi Hassan, a military liaison officer who is part of the visiting UN team, is concerned that the delayed graduation and deployment will have a demoralizing impact on the troops at the Maridi Training Centre, and possibly on the peace process itself.
“The training was meant to last for two months, and the prospect of graduation, deployment and a chance to contribute to the peace process in the country has been a strong motivation for many of the troops. Now more than a year has passed, they are still here and that is a problem,” he says.