UNMISS team conducts historic patrol in Tonga
A team from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has just concluded a three-day patrol of rebel-held Tonga – a strategic area in the northern Upper Nile region of South Sudan – to obtain a first-hand situational update on the security and humanitarian situation.
“Tonga is an area we haven’t traditionally had a presence in. We wanted to go in there to get an understanding of what the situation is like,” said UNMISS head and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, David Shearer.
Violent clashes between Government and Opposition forces have left the people of Tonga in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
“We wanted to see what the needs were; talk with the local community and find out what was going on,” said the head of the UN Mission.
Around the small town, the characteristic makeshift shelter – made from tarpaulin-sheeting – bearing humanitarian agency logos were nowhere to be seen, a sign that humanitarian aid has not yet reached the town.
The livelihoods of thousands of people in Tonga were disrupted when a second wave of fighting erupted in April 2017, forcing many to flee their homes and take shelter in refugee camps in neighbouring Sudan.
Since the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement last December, local authorities say the area has been stable with no security issues reported. As a result, many civilians who had fled are returning home to start afresh.
But they are coming back to nothing.
“There is no food and clean drinking water for civilians here. “We are lacking health service and education facilities. We have the structure of the school in place but lack teaching materials. We have the structure of the hospital but no medicine and doctors,” said the county commissioner, Adulok Ogeny Mal-lulak, adding that he wants humanitarian organizations to intervene to save people from starvation.
Following the assessment visit to Tonga, David Shearer said the UN Mission together with humanitarian partners is looking to see “how best to address the needs”.
However, humanitarian agencies may face some serious access barriers for humanitarian aid deliveries. Trucks will have a hard time reaching the area, especially during the upcoming rainy season.
Despite the challenges, the county commissioner said they remain hopeful that the second round of talks during the High Level Revitalization Forum in Addis Ababa will bring about peace, making it possible for civilians to rebuild their lives.
“Right across the country and particularly in Tonga, people are looking to Addis Ababa to be able to generate a new momentum to bring about peace,” said David Shearer. “What we really need to see from the leaders and the armed groups that are there in Addis Ababa is the willingness to step over their red lines and work together in the interest of the country.”
“If we do not see that, we will be back to where we are and the misery and the suffering will continue. We want to be able to give the people of South Sudan some real hope that change is coming,” said the UNMISS chief.
The ongoing peace talks are expected to conclude on 16 February.