UNMISS pursues lasting peace for the people of Keyala in Eastern Equatoria State
“I feel worn out. I am tired of these persistent conflicts, the cattle rustling and the accusations and counter accusations of who is at fault. This town is the breadbasket of our communities. This is where we share a hospital and a primary school,” says John Oromo, a sub chief in Keyala.
Keyala is located about two hours from Torit in Eastern Equatoria State. This is the centre of the world for most people in the area, home to several ethnic groups and usually bustling with commercial activity. Today, however, the United Nations patrol is greeted by nothing but eerie silence.
“It is difficult for women on both sides, because we don’t know how to control our children to end this fighting. We can no longer go to the farm without armed escort, so food is becoming scarce,” says Monica Sadia, a representative of the local Women's Association.
Disagreements with a nearby village, which begun with an incident of domestic violence, have led to a series of killings and revenge attacks. The townsfolk who have an alternative place to live have fled. Others remain, albeit with bated breath.
“It is unbearable. I have no means of transportation, so I often need to trek between the villages to confirm reports of crimes and monitor the situation. These days that happens a lot,” says Victor Paulino, the lone police officer present in town.
It is not the first time Keyala is struck by outbursts of violence. The UN peacekeepers have been here before, once resolving a similarly deadly dispute.
“For the past several months, we have been working with all concerned communities to reach a mutual agreement. Initial meetings suggest that they are open to dialogue,” said Peter Bradbury, a representative of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
Yet on arrival this time, the welcoming committee was nowhere to be found. Soon, however, the paramount chief hastily arrives on his motorbike and quorum is reached. The flurry of reports which followed confirmed suspicions that tensions between the villages are increasing.
“We cannot even venture into neighbouring towns because we are too scared. We all want peace, but we do not know where to start from to achieve it,” says Julius Galileo Ohide, the paramount chief.
“Because goods are being confiscated along the main supply route, traders are discouraged and all commercial activity has ceased,” says Odey, a youth leader. “It has been two months since the disagreement started again, but no one wants to go to Torit for supplies because of fear of being ambushed on the way,” he added.
Before departing, the UN team receives assurances from the town’s representatives that their people are willing to show up and participate in a dialogue, as have members of the other villages concerned. The peace forum looks certain to be held. Now, all parties must agree on two critical counts: when and where.