Leaders in Tonj seek forum to steer communities away from recurrent clashes

Leaders in South Sudan’s Tonj area have expressed an urgent need for a regional dialogue to help stem the spectre of recurrent conflict between the Thiet and Manyang communities, and the entire Tonj area in general.

We want UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] and the Government to organize a peace conference that will bring especially the people of Thiet, Manyang-Ngok, and the entire Tonj community together, so that we can discuss our differences and find a solution to the fighting among ourselves, Thiet County Commissioner Joseph Lil Gok told a delegation of UNMISS peacekeepers at the county headquarters.

He proposed Wanh-Alel, a centrally located and seemingly neutral location to the conflicting parties as the venue for the said peace conference.

There’re three stages of bringing peace to the people of Tonj: first, disarming cattle keepers and other civilians who should not be in possession of firearms; secondly, recovering animals that were looted during the fighting and, lastly, apprehending criminals who committed those crimes, Commissioner Joseph Lil Gok suggested.

UNMISS Civil Affairs Officer Drici Toruko from the Kuajok Field Office urged the parties not to take the law into their own hands, adding that in order to consolidate peace in the area, the conflicting parties must try to physically interact with one another.

The evidence of peace is the physical interactions between the conflicting communities and by this, the confidence level will continue to increase gradually, noted Mr. Toruko, who led an integrated team of civil affairs, human rights and military officers from UNMISS on the mission to assess the general security situation, monitor human rights issues and gather information on disarmament and recruitment in the region.

However, Makuei Gur, a resident and cattle keeper in Thiet Town pointed out that physical interactions among opposing parties will not be possible at this time because people still harbour fresh grudges against one another.

People were killed, cattle looted on both sides, and we cannot have these interactions right now, until the proposed seven-member court panel is formed, criminals tried, and compensations given before we can once again interact with one another, he stressed.

During a previous regional dialogue, a seven-man special court panel was proposed, but the court is yet to be formed for unknown reasons. The people of Thiet have suggested that the composition of the court includes people from their community � a suggestion that is largely opposed by the Manyang-Ngok community.

Manyang-Ngok County Commissioner John Garang Mabior Ater recommended that members of the special court come from distant places that are not a part of the conflict in the region.

If the composition of the court is people from different regions, decisions that will be rendered will be impartial and credible, he said.

We are tired of conflict because our youthful population as well as women and children are dying all the time when there is fighting. We want the Government and UNMISS to quickly organize a dialogue so that we resolve these issues, the Manyang-Ngok County Commissioner appealed, reiterating what his Thiet counterpart had said.

He told the delegation in Manyang-Ngok County that his area was in the middle of the conflict as his people are being attacked by youth from the Gok area in the south and Thiet in the north.

The conflict in Tonj has left hundreds of people killed, thousands displaced, and hundreds of cattle looted, hence the call from the area government to UNMISS to intervene and help bring the clashes and carnage to an end, and restore durable peace in the region.

Source: UN Mission in South Sudan