EASTERN EQUATORIA – The past three months have been a difficult time for communities living in Ikotos County, Eastern Equatoria State in South Sudan.
The conflict erupted in April this year over cattle rustling; since then, the populations of Ikotos Central payam [administrative division] and Romula, a boma from Chorokol payam, have been involved in a saga of counter-raids and revenge attacks, which have claimed around 20 lives so far.
Normal life was completely disrupted; many people have abandoned their homes and farms, fleeing to safer places, including outside the country.
“We want our voices to be taken seriously when we say there is an urgent need for peace initiatives here. Violence is never a solution and we have been fighting and killing each other for far too long. At a time when we should be united, our communities are more divided than ever,” says Michael Moga Olukatuwa, Chief of Chorokol passionately.
Michael was speaking to an integrated peace team led by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) that recently traveled to Ikotos to assess the security situation and meet with community members.
“Historically, the people of Ikotos have always been peaceful and cordial with each other,” reveals Mario Odiongo, president of the county’s seven communities. They traveled safely on the roads to the villages of Chahari and even Lobira. However, that has completely changed. We now live in a very tense security environment and we are suspicious of each other. The conflict has destroyed our way of life,” he adds eloquently.
The visiting team, comprising UNMISS peacekeepers, representatives of the Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation Commission and the Ministry of Peacebuilding, discussed with community representatives the need to find common ground for an inclusive dialogue for peace.
“We will certainly take your concerns and share with government authorities, your leaders and partners to ensure that the current situation in Ikotos is resolved. No one should fear losing their life and it is vital that reconciliation efforts begin here as soon as possible,” said Hercules Ayahu Abalu, Civil Affairs Officer, UNMISS.
Volatility in Ikotos has been exacerbated by the fact that no arrests have been recorded by local police and stolen cattle have yet to be returned to their rightful owners. Ambushes are on the rise on the roads here, which recently resulted in the deaths of two aid workers along the Ikotos-Tsertenya-Uganda border road.
Dialogue seems to be the only way to resolve differences and bring some relief to suffering communities.
“We need to come together and talk about our grievances,” said County Commissioner Joseph Loholong Jersio. “It is only through dialogue that we will arrive at mutually acceptable solutions to this dire situation. We need to build peace now to make sure our children don’t suffer anymore.