UNMISS peacekeepers investigate attack on displaced families seeking sanctuary at a Rimenze church
“It was so stressful here when they attacked us that night. But I don’t think they will return again because you are here and we believe in you.”
A resident of the small town of Rimenze expresses his relief at the arrival of a convoy of United Nations peacekeepers and colleagues from the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism.
The team has made a special journey to the village in the Central Equatorian region of South Sudan to investigate an attack on displaced families who have sought sanctuary in a church compound. During the violent assault, the families’ shelters were looted and burnt to the ground.
“It was a nightmare really. They set my tukul on fire and all my belongings were burnt to ash,” says resident Charles Jacob Mbaro. “They also entered my neighbour’s room and made away with his bicycle and motorcycle plus 30,000 South Sudanese pounds.”
The visit by peacekeepers has also been undertaken to try and deter further violence by armed groups or criminals operating in the area and to support peacebuilding efforts.
“From the human rights perspective, civilians are not supposed to be caught up in this kind of situation,” says Antonina Okuta, a human rights officer serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. “Civilians should enjoy security. So, we will take this up with the state authorities so that they can, at least, establish a police post here to deter these incidents.”
Political violence has subsided since the signing of a peace deal last year, but the economic situation remains dire, creating an environment where criminals take what they can, where they can.
For the residents of the camp for displaced families in Rimenze, located in a church compound, the criminality is preventing them from pursuing their dream of leaving the site to return to their own homes. They simply don’t have confidence that their community is safe enough.
“We were being told that there is peace and that we could return to our homes,” says Maria Raphael. “But, as we were preparing our houses, our fields, and planting crops in the hope of peace, we were attacked again. So, right now, I think there is no peace, so we will remain here in the camp.”
The Rimenze parish priest has asked local authorities to take action in the wake of the attack on the church, which he says should be one of the most respected places, and somewhere people can seek refuge and peace.
“People are being forced to sleep in the bush out of fear because there is no security here,” says Father Peter Babe Timo. “If there is no security for them even at the church, what can I do to protect them?”