Reunification of rival forces in Panyier raises hopes for durable peace among civilians
“Now that they train together, eat together and command together, peace has come. I am convinced that they will protect us and our country together.”
That optimistic opinion was expressed by Bor resident, Achol Deng Nai, after news emerged that former foes from the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF), Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Oppotion (SPLA-IO) and South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) had reported to a training site in Panyier to be reunified as a single national force.
Achol Deng Nai is a mother of seven children who currently live in a refugee camp in Uganda because of fears that, if conflict erupts again, they may be slain just like their father was during the civil war.
By selling bread at Marol Market in Bor, in the Jonglei region, she manages to pay the school fees for her three boys and one girl at the Nyumazi Refugee Camp in Adjumani.
She was initially displaced from her home when war broke out in 2013. When she returned to assess the security situation in 2016, fighting erupted at the presidential palace in Juba, separating her from the children.
“It was a terrible experience in 2013. I had to carry two children on my back and food on my head,” said Achol Deng Nai.
“In 2016, I hid for three days under my bed in Juba. I did not think, I would ever live to see the light. But this cantonment of rival forces gives me hope that they have accepted peace and war is history.”
The warring parties agreed to the assembly and cantonment of their combat troops within 30 days of signing the 2018 agreement to begin the reunification of forces.
But the process has been painfully slow with the formation of a transitional government now delayed twice due to an inability to agree over security arrangements and to make decisions on future states and boundaries.
“People will only have confidence to return to South Sudan from refugee camps, and to their homes, from displacement camps and UNMISS Protection of Civilians sites, if there is peace and security in the country,” said Deborah Schein, the Head of the UNMISS field office in Bor.
“A unified professional armed force will restore confidence that peace is possible.”
At the Panyier training site, important security mechanisms such as the Area Joint Military Committee (AJMC) appreciate the cooperation among the forces.
“The combatants and government are really in a very strong relationship. They have been cooperating very smoothly. There is no kind of disagreement among them,” reported Colonel Joseph Kadaru, Chief of the Area Joint Military Committee.
According to the peace agreement, forces in cantonment sites should receive non-military logistical supplies, including food, shelter and access to medical care. But this is not the case on the ground.
“The cantonment site in Teneth, for instance, was heavily flooded and most of the forces deserted,” said Colonel Kadaru. “There are a lot of challenges and hunger is a very big threat. Common diseases abound.”
According to Colonel Kadaru, there are more than 2000 SPLA-IO and SSOA troops at the Teneth cantonment site in Boma. Transporting them to the Panyier training center remains a huge challenge, he said.
The SPLA-IO Bovernor of Boma, General Luka Rachu, has reportedly commanded his forces to travel 200 kilometers by foot from Teneth to Panyier but, so far, only 51 have assembled at the site.
Local authorities in Jonglei are gladly receiving the SPLA-IO forces as they pass though enroute to Panyier.
Jonglei Advisor on Peace and Reconciliation, Isaac Mamer Ruk, said the government is committed to supplying medicine and food to the Panyier training site.
“If our brothers and sisters are brought here to Panyier and there is a challenge of food and medicines, it will be a responsibility of the state government to address that,” he said.
Isaac Mamer Ruk said both government and SPLA-IO forces were ready to work together for peace.
“The implementation of this peace is a collective responsibility.”