An integrated UNMISS patrol to remote villages in Ikotos, Eastern Equatoria, is aiming to help local communities break a vicious cycle of cattle raids, ambushes and revenge attacks that have caused loss of lives and created a fearful atmosphere for residents. Photo by Okello James/UNMISS.
Peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) have conducted a seven-day patrol to several villages in Ikotos county in Eastern Equatoria.
The objective: To build confidence among the residents of these villages through the presence of Blue Helmets.
“Local communities in these villages continue to be plagued by ambushes and revenge attacks,” reveals Francis Shuei, a Civil Affairs Officer working with the UN peacekeeping mission.
“We, therefore, felt that its imperative for us to be present on the ground, speak with communities and their leaders about the hardships they are facing and liaise with youth groups as well as authorities to amplify messages of peaceful coexistence,” he adds.
During meetings with local populations and authorities, the main issues that the patrol team were informed about included repeated armed attacks on travelers on arterial roads, plus a recurrent cycle of intercommunal feuding and subsequent revenge attacks that have claimed the lives of many people.
Much of the conflict is said to have been caused by cattle rustling. Bringing instigators to justice has proved difficult, according to local authorities, since community members balk at identifying perpetrators.
“Traditional community leaders are being targeted by perpetrators. We are not just talking about threats; many chiefs have actually been killed,” reveals Peter Odwar, chief of Tsertenya boma. “Naturally, everybody fears such retaliation and chooses to keep silent, despite their suffering.” Mr. Odwar has lost a close relative in a recent road attack along the Ikotos-Tsertenya-Uganda border.
The upsurge in violence is corroborated by records from nearby health facilities in Ikotos which continue to receive patients with gunshot wounds during attacks. The Isoke Hospital, run by Diocese of Torit, treats numerous victims of gunshot wounds from various parts of Ikotos as well as the neighbouring counties in a month.
“We admit and treat a minimum of three to five victims of violence every month. Each person has been shot,” confirmed Dr. Edwin Evan, a medical superintendence at Isoke Hospital.
All these factors combine to create an increasingly tense environment where it is difficult to implement government policies. Communities in these villages are rallying together with chiefs and youth uniting to create some sort of a comprehensive preventive and reporting mechanism
“We are working together with community leaders and the youth to help identify the perpetrators for justice to be implemented,” says the newly appointed County Commissioner of Ikotos, Joseph Loholong. “But, honestly, we are very glad to see UNMISS taking this seriously and appreciate them being on the ground. We can use all the help we get to keep our people safe.”
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