UNMISS peacekeepers work to deter intercommunal violence in Tonj
Disputes over grazing land, cattle-raiding, revenge killings, a proliferation of guns in the hands of civilians and hate speech are all contributing to a spate of violent clashes in the Tonj region of South Sudan.
Political violence has reduced significantly across the country since warring parties signed a peace deal in September 2018. But intercommunal conflict continues to cause immense harm in some communities, including Tonj which is located in the Kuajok region.
Fighting between Muok, Thony, Yar and Apuk-Juwiir communities last week reportedly resulted in the deaths of at least 16 people and injuries to many others. The conflict was caused by a dispute over land ownership, according to local authorities.
Peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan travelled to the area to speak to those affected by the violence as well as to meet with local authorities, chiefs and communities more broadly in an effort to prevent further fighting and to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict.
The Executive Director of the Manyang-Ngok community, William Agulet Deng, described the security situation along borders between the different tribes as “volatile” due to persistent cattle raiding and revenge attacks.
Disputes over ownership of, and access to, grazing land was identified as a key driver of the conflict by Thony Paramount Chief, Kuel Bak Nyang.
“We in the Thony community are willing to share the disputed grazing land but we will not compromise on the issue of renaming our land and claim for the ownership,” he said.
He said that, instead of fighting with each other, communities should register their grievances related to the land with a special court so the cases can be pursued legally rather than violently.
Another local administrator, Peter Akot Akeen, expressed concern that rumours are being spread about impending attacks which is creating fear among communities and causing them to flee their homes.
“There is not enough of a presence of police in our payam,” he said. “Instead armed youth are taking responsibility for protecting civilians and their property.”
Another problem is the proliferation of guns owned by civilians and incitement to violence through hate speech. Several location authorities called for a disarmament campaign.
The Jak Commissioner, Manyiel Ngoth Agei, described the general security situation as stable because of the deployment of government forces in particular areas following the recent clashes but said that criminal activities were causing problems in particular locations.
There was widespread agreement among local authorities and the community that efforts should be made to resolve the conflict before migration causes even more tension as cattle-keepers from the north travel down the country in search of grazing land and access to water for their stock.
UNMISS Head of Field Office in Kuajok, Anastasie Nyirigira Mukangarambe said that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan has redeployed its forces to establish a temporary operating base to enable patrols to areas of violence and to build confidence.
“We have been engaging the conflicting communities together with local authorities so that we can find a way of reconciling them, so they go back to normal rather than killing each other,” she said.
The deployment of 46 Bangladeshi troops serving with UNMISS followed reports from local authorities that 16 people had been killed and several others injured during a series of inter-communal clashes and revenge attacks between Muok, Thony, Yar and Apuk-Juwiir of former Tonj South County.