As UNMISS acts to deter violence in Maper, one community extends hand of peace
A brief, but telling, conversation unfolded in Maper on Monday between the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Force Commander Lt. Gen. Shailesh Tinaikar and Manyiel Lieny, the Paramount Chief of Gak community, which has been at bloody odds with its neighbour, the Manuer community.
“Do you have any message that you want me to carry to the Manuer community with whom you have been fighting?” asked the UNMISS Force Commander.
“Go and tell them that even though we have some grievances, now that someone like you – who is responsible for [UN troops] in the whole of South Sudan (force commander) – has come to us, we have stopped the fighting. We shall live peacefully with them. Go and tell them that,” responded Paramount Chief Manyiel Lieny.
The conversation took place in Aloor County, where the UNMISS force commander had arrived with a team of senior staff members to assess the security situation in the area, where the Gak and Manuer communities have been clashing for days now.
At least 79 people have been reported dead, with over 100 sustaining serious injuries in what is said to be a revenge attack between the two Pakam communities.
“The actual number of the dead and the injured from both communities is not yet confirmed. Some are still being kept within the communities fearing that fighting might re-occur any time,” reported Solomon Mamout, the governor of Western Lakes.
While political violence has largely subsided in South Sudan since the signing of the revitalized peace agreement in September 2018, intercommunal clashes continue to result in the killing and injuring of civilians, cattle raiding and the looting of property.
“This fighting must stop,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, David Shearer in a statement issued on Wednesday morning. “We are urging the communities involved and their leaders to put an end to the violence and to come together in reconciliation and peace for the good of their people.”
Seventy-five Nepalese troops serving with the peacekeeping mission have since been temporarily deployed from Rumbek to Maper to deter further violence between the two warring communities.
“We have found out that our presence has made a difference and for the next few days we shall make sure that we have permanent presence here. We will do an outreach campaign to bring a sense of calm and peace and create confidence for a peaceful settlement of all disputes,” said visiting Lt. Gen. Tinaikar.
In the last three days, the guns have gone silent and all stakeholders, including the two warrying communities and their leadership, Western Lakes area authorities, and UNMISS, are keeping their fingers crossed that this relative calm is sustained.
“It is very unfortunate that today we had planned to have our Pakam community meeting but because of this incident, we have postponed the conference until further notice,” lamented Governor Mamout. “As the government, we are asking both communities to be calm and extend a message of peace among themselves as brothers and sisters,” he counselled.
His message found resonance in the community leaders’ pledge to dissuade their people from engaging in further attacks and revenge killings, as they appreciated the steps taken by UNMISS.
“Those who lost their sons, after seeing you now, will heal emotionally. It will make them feel that their sons’ lives were important, and that is why you came all the way from Juba to talk to them and share the pain of their loss,” said the Gak paramount chief.
Last year, the peacekeeping mission, through its Civil Affairs Division, held a peace dialogue that sought to bring about peaceful co-existence between the two Pakam communities. Now the mission’s Rumbek field office is thinking of new strategies to ensure that the resolutions reached during last year’s peace-building activities hold once and for all.
“When you consider that the peace deal that was reached between these two communities last year was broken in less than a year, it means there was no absolute sincerity between them during the discussions,” deduced Leopold Kouassi, Acting Head of UNMISS Field Office, Rumbek. “Therefore, this time round we need to have in-depth discussions, ensuring that long standing grievances are brought to the table and, together with the communities and the authorities, ensure that the new resolutions reached are to be thoroughly implemented,” he stressed.