More Regional Protection Forces Arrive in South Sudan’s Juba

February 14, 2018

FILE – Peacekeepers from Rwanda are seen at the airport in South Sudan’s capital Juba, Sept. 2, 2016. Link to image.

More foreign troops arrived in South Sudan’s capital as part of the U.N. Security Council-mandated Regional Protection Force (RFP). But a South Sudanese analyst says the additional peacekeepers will have no impact on the country’s deadly conflict if they are not deployed outside of Juba.

The 270 Rwandans who arrived on Saturday join about 600 other personnel from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Rwanda. Francesca Mold, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said more Rwandans are coming by road, and the force will eventually grow to 4,000.

The Security Council mandated in 2016 the RPF provide protection to key facilities and routes in Juba and to strengthen the security of U.N. Protection of Civilians’ sites, where thousands of displaced South Sudanese have been living after fighting broke out in their towns and villages.

FILE – Rwandan peacekeepers from the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) parade after arriving in Juba, South Sudan, Aug. 8, 2017. Link to image.

Policy analyst Augustino Ting Mayai at the Juba-based Sudd Institute said the capital is stable, so there is no reason for the newly arrived troops to stay in Juba.

“It makes less sense that you add 200 more troops to what we have already in Juba — the U.N., the Regional Protection Forces, the government security forces, the police, and other forces,” he told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

In August, UNMISS chief David Shearer said the arrival and phased deployment of the RPF would free existing UNMISS peacekeepers to extend their presence to conflict-affected areas outside of Juba.

He said there were delays in deploying the protection forces because that requires the cooperation of the South Sudan government, troop contributing countries, and U.N. headquarters to make sure all procedures are followed.
And before more troops are sent to South Sudan, he said the U.N. should re-evaluate the performance of UNMISS and the kind of protection that is required in the country.

“Is it the protection for big installations? Is it the protection of political leaders or is it a general protection of civilians?,” he asked. “… Civilians come first because it is a majority of them who are getting displaced, who are walking to nearby nations bordering South Sudan where a majority of people have been killed.”

Addis Ababa talks

FILE – South Sudan government delegates attend talks in Addis Ababa (J. Tanza/VOA). Link to image.

Mayai said parties attending talks in Addis Ababa to revitalize South Sudan’s 2015 peace agreement should discuss whether a Regional Protection Force in South Sudan is even a good idea at this point.

“The agreement should come up clearly on whether or not such a force is needed, and if needed, where exactly we should deploy them to provide that protection that it is desired,” he said.

Tensions flared with government forces after RPF troops were deployed near Juba airport in August. Mayai said with more RPF troops arriving in South Sudan, the government and the U.N. should improve their coordination to prevent a repeat performance of that incident.

“We need to streamline how a message is passed between the government and the international community, and that the community are made aware of the coming of troops so that they don’t cause panic when people see them for the first time,” he added.

The U.N. Security Council authorized the Regional Protection Force for South Sudan after deadly violence broke out in Juba between government forces and bodyguards of former first vice president Riek Machar.

Along with the Rwandan troops that arrived last week, the current RPF includes a company of Rwandan soldiers, a Nepalese company, and slightly more than 100 Bangladeshi engineers.

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Sudan, S. Sudan resume cross-border trade after 7 years

Cross-border commercial traffic was suspended after South Sudan declared independence in 2011

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KHARTOUM

Sudanese Trade Minister Hatem al-Sar on Wednesday announced the resumption of cross-border commercial traffic with South Sudan following a seven-year hiatus.

According to local media reports, the two countries have now resumed full border services in Sudan’s White Nile Province and South Sudan’s Upper Nile region.

Al-Sar told reporters in Khartoum that the decision to reopen the border to commercial traffic had been ordered directly by President Omar al-Bashir.

“The resumption of legal cross-border commerce will strike a blow against smuggling,” the trade minister said, adding that Sudan was “open to dialogue with all its neighbors”.

Cross-border trade had remained suspended since South Sudan declared independence from its northern neighbor following a popular referendum in 2011.

Despite ongoing differences between the two countries, Khartoum and Abuja signed a wide-ranging cooperation protocol — governing the transport, commerce, security and oil sectors — in 2013.

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As South Sudan talks unfold, church leaders prioritise peace

14 February 2018

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As the second round of South Sudan peace talks unfold in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, church leaders are urging the parties to prioritise peace to end the misery for millions trapped or ejected by the prolonged war.

The talks, titled “High Level Revitalisation Forum,” which opened on 5 February are occurring at a time when international calls to end the conflict have amplified. The current civil war started in December 2013, as a dispute between the political elite in Africa’s newest nation.

On the ground, the leaders told the parties to exercise restraint, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation, and begin honest and truthful negotiations.

“We have consistently stated that this is a senseless war which should and must immediately stop. There is no moral justification to continue war and killings, regardless of any legitimate political issues with the government or opposition feel they may have,” said the leaders in a South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) statement on 5 February.

“Our people in the cities and towns, in the refugee camps and protection of civilian sites, in the countryside and diaspora, are desperate to feel and experience true peace.”

About 14 factions are attending the 5-16 February talks which are led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.  Delegates are hoping to jumpstart a peace agreement the government of South Sudan and the rebels, the South People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition, political parties and former detainees signed in August 2015.

The forum is also expected to restore a permanent ceasefire, discuss governance and come up with a realistic timeline for elections, planned to occur at the end of the three transition period.

The truce has been critical, with jubilation and hope greeting the ceasefire agreement signed on 22 December 2017. Church leaders had received the pact as a “Christmas gift,” but to their dismay, the factions broke it within hours.

Now, the leaders want the groups to respect, honour and abide by this agreement which they committed to.

“It is no longer acceptable to negotiate posts and positions in the middle of violence and killings. The needs of the people must be met,” said the statement signed by among others, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Juba Paulino Lukudu Loro and Rev. Peter Gai Lual Marrow, chairman of the SSCC.

At the same time, the leaders express that there is no quick and easy way to resolve the difficult issues- referring to their historical experience- but stress the people’s longing for political compromise and peace.

Analysts say the conflict compels the church, civil society and the international community to act.

Current United Nations (UN) statistics show that in its fifth year, the conflict has forced 2.5 million to flee to neighbouring countries. The numbers are expected to reach 3million at the end of this year.

Inside the country, 7 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

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South African advisor to South Sudan rebels could face death penalty

13 February 2018

Advisor faces charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government, espionage and supply of weaponry.
William John Endley has also been charged with insurgency, sabotage, terrorism and illegal entry into South Sudan. Picture: Shutterstock. Link to image.

A South African on trial in South Sudan could face the death penalty if found guilty of charges including conspiracy to overthrow the government and supplying weapons, his lawyer said on Tuesday, a day after his co-defendant was sentenced to death.

South African national William John Endley served as an advisor to rebel leader Riek Machar, whose forces have been fighting those loyal to President Salva Kiir in a civil war since 2013.

On Monday South Sudan’s High Court handed the death sentence to James Gatdet Dak, a former spokesman for Machar, as well as a combined 21 years for incitement and conspiracy against Kiir’s government.

The charges against Endley, a retired army colonel, that carry the death penalty are conspiracy to overthrow the government, espionage and supply of weaponry, his lawyer Gardit Abel Gar, told Reuters.

He has also been charged with insurgency, sabotage, terrorism and illegal entry into South Sudan, he said. The exact charges against Endley had previously been unclear.

South Africa’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

The court adjourned Tuesday’s hearing to February 15 after witnesses called by the defence did not appear.

“We were unable to get the witnesses. Some them are outside the country,” Abel said. The court was not giving the defence enough time to summon its witnesses, he said.

South Sudan, which won independence from Sudan in 2011, descended into civil war in 2013, months after Kiir fired his then deputy Machar. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and a third of the population have fled their homes.

Machar, who fled to Democratic Republic of Congo after fierce fighting broke out in Juba in July 2016, is now in South Africa.

Diplomatic and political sources say he is being held by South African authorities at an unknown location to keep him from participating in the conflict. Pretoria says he came to South Africa for medical treatment and was staying as a “guest of the government”.

A relative of Endley, who did not want to be named, said South African officials in Juba had worked hard to provide consular support but Pretoria could do more to push his case.

“They’ve helped us in getting money and parcels to him, but I think more could be done at the diplomatic level,” the family member said.

A ceasefire agreement signed between Kiir’s government and the rebels in December is intended to revive a 2015 peace deal which lasted less than a year before collapsing.

Talks on a new power-sharing arrangement and an election are scheduled to follow but clashes have continued to break out, prompting the United States to impose sanctions.

On Monday, the government accused rebels of launching attacks in the northeastern town of Nassir. An internationally backed ceasefire monitoring team said it was sending a team to investigate the violence in the next 24 hours.

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SPLM-IO signs peace declaration of principle as Juba declines

10 FEBRUARY 2018

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(ADDIS ABABA) – The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition led by the former FVP Riek Machar has announced it signed a Declaration of Principles for the peace revitalization process while the government refused the framework saying it calls for sanctions on the parties.

The SPLM / SPLA (IO) “Deputy Chairman of the SPLM/SPLA (IO), Comrade Henry Odwar has signed the Declaration of Principles (DoP), for the IGAD – High Level Revitalization Forum on South Sudan (HLRF),” said a statement released by Mabior Garang Mabior the head of the head of the SPLM-IO information committee.

“The leadership would like to assure our people, that your Movement, the SPLM/SPLA (IO) is fully committed to peace through a negotiated settlement,” Mabior further added.

The rebel official, however, didn’t comment on the position of the government delegation on the DoP but stressed that their delegation is resolved to negotiate with the government in good faith and they shall not betray the hopes and aspirations of South Sudanese for peace.

The government spokesperson Michael Makuei Lueth rejected the DoP saying it includes calls for punitive measures against the parties to the process and ignore what had been discussed and agreed in the forum.

He pointed they are ready to sign this facultative DoP if the mediation deletes the 28 article including a call for sanctions on the parties that do not commit themselves to the full implementation of the peace agreement and the outcome of the revitalization operation.

“This article (28) is misplaced, it incriminates the parties, and it is not a principle. It is a punitive provision and as such, it is misplaced and should not be there,” said the minister.

The second phase of the South Sudan peace revitalization forum started Monday, after the failure of the parties to implement a cessation of hostilities. It is also convened under regional and international threats to impose sanctions on the parties if they fail to honour the peace deal.

For his part, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu who is also the Chairman of the IGAD Council of Ministers on Friday issued a statement reassuring that the revitalization process continues to discuss substantive issues in the South Sudan peace agreement.

On Friday “Participants have commenced talks on Pre-Transitional Period and National Constitutional Amendment Committee (NCAC) stated under Article 13 of the ARCSS, while the signing of the Declaration of Principles was taking place,” said Gebeyehu in a statement released by the Ethiopian foreign ministry.

As the second phase entered its fifth day, he further pointed to the progress achieved on issues ranging from the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and the Council of States, the Judiciary to the Transitional Institutions and Mechanisms stipulated under Chapter I of Article 11, 12 and 14 of the Agreement.

“They have also reached consensus on Mandates of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) on Wednesday,” he stressed.

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“UNTHINKABLE” FOR PEACE PROCESS TO PROCEED WITHOUT INCLUSION OF SOUTH SUDANESE WOMEN

10 Feb 2018

“Unthinkable” for peace process to proceed without inclusion of South Sudanese women. Link to image.

Women politicians in South Sudan are saying “enough is enough”.

They are calling for their voices to be heard and for a more inclusive process that allows women to play a pivotal role in the peace building process.

“Women are the backbone of humanity,” says the chairwoman of the Sudan African National Union (SANU) political party, Theresa Sericio. “It is important that they participate in the peace process so as to incorporate issues of human concern which can bring about the peace that the people of South Sudan are looking for.”

“Men alone cannot bring peace. Women alone cannot bring peace. But men and women, together and united, can bring sustainable peace,” she said.

Theresa Sericio joined other women politicians, academics and civil society activists at a workshop organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan’s Gender Unit and Political Affairs Division to discuss women’s participation in the peace process. The forum comes at a time when political leaders from across the country are meeting with regional and international agencies at the High Level Revitalization Forum in Addis Ababa where a cessation of hostilities agreement was recently signed.

Speaking at the workshop, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (Political), Moustapha Soumaré, said the UN will continue to support all endeavours to enhance the participation of women in the peace process.

Canada’s Ambassador to South Sudan, Alan Hamson, shed light on the importance of women’s participation and contribution to peace processes both at national and sub-national levels.

Norway’s Ambassador to South Sudan, Lars Andersen, echoed that sentiment saying it is almost “unthinkable” to have a peace process that does not include women.

Research by UN Women has found that, when women are involved in peace processes, they bring the discussion beyond narrow personal interests of warring parties to help to address the root causes of conflict. This approach contributes to a more enduring peace.

In South Sudan, women politicians have come together to form a network to ensure participation in the various phases of the peace negotiations. Mediation efforts have also led to a 25 per cent increase in the number of women elected and appointed to public office.

“We are trying to build a momentum where women will come together and speak with one voice,” said Theresa Sericio.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the women leaders issued a communique setting out eight resolutions, including urging the international community and regional bodies, such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to remain committed to the inclusive and effective participation of women in peace talks and for all stakeholders to commit to the cessation of hostilities agreement.

“We do not want a peace that comes today and dies off. We do not want a ceasefire that is signed today and dies off,” said Theresa Sericio.

Since the conflict began in 2013, tens of thousands South Sudanese people have been killed and four million have been displaced or forced to flee to neighbouring countries as refugees.

As the second round of talks continue at the High Level Revitalization Forum, it is hoped that women politicians will have a seat at the negotiating table and act as catalysts of change to forge a path to peace for the fragile East African nation.

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EDUCATION BEST WAY TO FREE SOUTH SUDANESE WOMEN FROM GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND DISCRIMINATION

9 February 2018

Education best way to free South Sudanese women from gender-based violence and discrimination. Link to image.

Women and girls in the Gogrial area have been encouraged to get an education and thus minimize the risks they face of being subjected to gender-based violence. The call comes amid reports of an increased number of sexual violence and abuse against females in the Greater Warrap region.

Anastasia Nyirigira, head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan field office in Kuajok, spoke to a number of women at the closure of a two-day workshop held as part of activities conducted to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

“The only way we can combat early marriages and forced marriages is to send our girls to school. I look at you women, and if you want to educate your daughters you can do it, because education is the only tool that can free women from all discrimination. Education can lead to economic independence and open many opportunities. We [UNMISS] stand with you, we will continue to support you and build your capacity,”, Ms. Nyirigira said.

The state minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Garang Bol, applauded the role UNMISS is playing in raising awareness on harmful practices against women and girls and encouraged the peacekeeping mission to keep up its good work. The Director-General of his ministry, Nyan-Nuot Madut, commented that these efforts are important at a time when many cases of sexual violence and abuse of girls and women are being reported.

The workshop was organised by UN Police and focused on harmful practices against women.  The forum was attended by 65 participants drawn from the Kuajok women’s union, civil society and the organised forces.

The Secretary-General for the women’s association, Aker Deng Akol, made an appeal for more education opportunities for women and girls.

“What I want to say to parents, community members and the government is that we need to encourage and empower girls and women and let everyone go to school”, she said.

Some participants strongly reacted to workshop as the “eye opener” forum for women to engage their male counterpart to discourage wrong attitude toward wrongdoing.

One participant, Elizabeth Nyanjok, described the event as an “eye-opener” that has encouraged her to talk to male counterparts on the importance of avoiding wrongdoings against women.

Another attendee, Mary Akol urged UNMISS to take its trainings to rural villages, and to target government officials to alert them on issues relevant to girls and women.

“Education should be a common goal in our community. Our government has to cooperate with the UN Mission so that we women can benefit from the trainings offered to us,”, she said.

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250 Child Soldiers in South Sudan Begin Recovery with World Vision

FEBRUARY 09, 2018

Image: Stefanie Glinski / AFP / Getty Images. Link to image.

With the help of World Vision, more than 250 South Sudanese children will have the chance to return to school, reunite with their families, and receive counseling after years of being forced to serve as soldiers and domestic workers during their country’s civil war.

The New York Times reported this week that 87 girls and 224 boys were freed in the second-largest release by armed groups since the conflict began, and several hundred more are expected to transition in the coming weeks.

World Vision, which has worked in South Sudan since 1989 and currently reaches 1 million people displaced by the conflict, received the children on Wednesday and will oversee their recovery and reunification.

“We are particularly concerned about a number of the girls being released who have experienced sexual or gender-based violence,” said Mesfin Loha, interim national director at World Vision South Sudan. “We will get them the support so they have a sense of hope again.”

With high levels of poverty, widespread displacement, and lack of education (70 percent of South Sudanese children are not in school—the highest proportion in the world), youth in what World Vision ranks as the world’s most fragile state are particularly vulnerable targets for the armed groups.

The United Nations has coordinated the release of almost 2,000 of 19,000 children recruited and kidnapped since the civil war began in 2013.

World Vision’s reintegration program gets support from the UN Children’s Fund, or UNICEF. Moving forward, World Vision case workers in the city of Yambio will work with children in recovery, offer school and vocational training, and provide interim care for those unable to locate their families.

“South Sudan’s children have already seen and experienced unimaginable violence. It is jeopardizing the country’s next generation,” Loha said. “These initiatives will help children have the opportunity to earn income in the future and help them navigate away from returning to the conflict.”

South Sudan gained independence in 2011, making it the youngest nation in the world. Though the central African country is about 60 percent Christian, it still ranks among the worst places for Christian persecution (this year it was No. 4).

In initial news coverage following this week’s release, teens described their responsibilities as bodyguards, lookouts, and fighters, traumatized by the killings they witnessed. Most said they had been kidnapped and forced into one of the warring factions, the South Sudan National Liberation Movement or the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-Opposition.

 “Child abduction is always in areas of cattle raids particularly between a tribe called Murle in Pibor. When this people go to raid cattle of the Nuer and Dinka, they end up stealing children as well,” said Edward Dima, president of the Baptist Convention of South Sudan, who has fled to Uganda amid the conflict.

“I pray for peace to be restored in the country to stamp out some of those practices.”

Beyond those recruited by fighters, multitudes more have witnessed and suffered during the five-year civil war. The UN reports that 1 million children in South Sudan will require psychological support due to “the emotional impact of conflict, loss of family members, separation, and displacement.”

Christians serving in areas of active conflict have served as resources for trauma counseling, and faith has been shown to help survivors build resilience rather than despair in the wake of terror and violence.

At the same time, South Sudan has suffered food and water shortages as a result of the war. Last month, UNICEF estimated that a quarter million children were “at risk of imminent death” due to malnutrition.

In 2017, aid workers with evangelical charity Samaritan’s Purse were kidnapped by armed rebels and later released. Fighters regularly use violence against workers and try to block distributions.

The South Sudan Council of Churches has continued to pray for peace and ask for humanitarian assistance.

In 2015, CT traveled to South Sudan with World Vision president and CEO Richard Stearns to see first-hand why Christians remain hopeful about the world’s most fragile state.

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South Sudan Government Objects to Rules for Peace Talks

February 09, 2018

FILE – South Sudan’s Information Minister Michael Makuei Leuth, spokesperson of the South Sudanese government, addresses a news conference during South Sudan’s negotiation talks in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, Jan. 5, 2014. Link to image.

South Sudan’s government Friday declined to sign an agreement on rules to facilitate discussion aimed at reviving the country’s collapsed 2015 peace deal.

The government’s delegates refused to approve the Declaration of Principles (DOP), intended to guide a second phase of high-level talks. They cited concerns over the document’s Article 28, which calls for taking punitive measures against individuals who block implementation of the revived peace deal.

The government’s delegates were not obligated to sign the guidelines, South Sudan’s information minister and spokesman Michael Makuei told reporters Friday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the talks are taking place. He said mediators and facilitators had announced Thursday “that the signing of the DOP is optional. So it is up to each party to decide whether to sign.”

Makuei said the government delegation wants Article 28 removed from the declaration.

“There is no reason for us to sign such a document in which there is a provision which incriminates and which irrelevant and which is not a principle,’’ the information minister said.

South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar speaks in an interview with The Associated Press in Johannesburg on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. Machar says a political process is needed to revive a peace deal that has collapsed in his country. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell). Link to image.

Talks enter fifth day

Meanwhile, rebels of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM IO), loyal to Riek Machar, issued a statement Friday affirming their commitment to ending violence in South Sudan.

They and other opposition groups strongly support Article 28.

The South Sudan parties signed an agreement in December on ceasing hostilities, protecting civilians and providing humanitarian access in South Sudan, but violated it within hours.

The talks entered their fifth day Friday, with the parties reaching another deadlock on the composition of the South Sudan’s transitional National Legislative Assembly. The various opposition groups would like the current assembly dissolved and reconstituted. But the government delegation insisted the assembly should be expanded to accommodate new groups.

Talks will continue

Rajab Mohandis, representing an umbrella group of South Sudan’s civil society at the talks, said negotiations would continue despite the setback by the government delegation.

“We are here to negotiate,” Mohandis said. “By not signing this document [DOP], it doesn’t signal any party pulling out from the process.”

Mohandis said the civil society stands ready to encourage good-faith negotiations.

“It our hope as the civil society that the parties, with the help of the mediators, will find a common ground” on Article 28 and “sign the document and continue with negotiations.”

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FREED SOUTH SUDAN CHILD SOLDIERS RECOUNT TRAUMA OF ABDUCTION

More than 300 children, 87 of them girls, were released by armed groups in Wednesday’s ceremony.

FILE: Two former child soldiers are seen in Juba, South Sudan. Picture: United Nations Photo. Link to Image.

Bakhita was only 12 years old when rebels snatched her from her family’s farm, adding her to a grim list of almost 19,000 children that the United Nations says have been recruited, often by force, by armed groups in South Sudan’s brutal civil war.

“I was thinking of my family every day. Sometimes, I cried but I couldn’t escape, the soldiers were everywhere in the bushes,” Bakhita told Reuters in a soft voice from the western town of Yambio, where she was among hundreds of children handed over to the UN on Wednesday.

She had been with the rebels two years, she said.

“There’s no house. We sleep in a tent. Sometimes at night, some soldiers come to my place and want to rape me by force. If I resist, they will beat me and make me cook for a week as a punishment for refusing to sleep with them,” the 14-year-old said, beginning to cry.

More than 300 children, 87 of them girls, were released by armed groups in Wednesday’s ceremony – the start of a process which the UN says is expected to see at least 700 children freed in the coming weeks.

But militias are recruiting children faster than humanitarians can free them.

Many, like Bakhita, are kidnapped at gunpoint. Others choose to join, lured by food and protection in a country whose economy has been wrecked by conflict and hyperinflation. Pockets of the nation plunged into famine last year.

“I didn’t kill. My commander was nice to me. I was given a gun to protect myself and people around me,” said Henry, a short 16-year-old rebel recruit with unkempt hair who wore battered open-toe sandals.

But even his hurried interview hinted at underlying trauma.

“The sound of the gun has affected my brain, I need something to help my brain recover,” he said hesitantly.

CIVIL WAR

Oil-rich South Sudan became the world’s youngest nation when it won independence from Sudan in 2011. Civil war broke out two years later, eventually forcing a third of the 12-million-strong population to flee their homes.

The conflict has spawned ethnic killings. Many top military chiefs are Dinka, the same ethnic group as President Salva Kiir Mayardit, and many rebels are Nuer, the ethnic group of former vice president Riek Machar. Many smaller groups have carved out territory controlled by their own militias. Gang rapes and attacks on civilians are common.

Mahimbo Mdoe, the representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund in South Sudan (Unicef), said the mass release of children was the biggest in three years.

“It is vital that negotiations continue so there are many more days like this,” he said in a statement.

Most of the children were released by the South Sudan National Liberation Movement, a rebel group that signed a peace agreement with the government in 2016. Nearly 100 children were released from the ranks of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), the biggest rebel group, which is led by Machar.

Some had previously escaped and been reunited with their families but had not been able to get any support.

Unicef plans to provide the children with civilian clothes, counselling, food assistance and vocational training as it tries to reunite them with their families. Those whose families can’t be traced will be taken to care facilities.

Among those facing an uncertain future is 17-year-old Justin, who became a bodyguard for a senior commander, after rebel forces attacked his home village in Zahra, near Yambio, in 2017. Justin said he burned his army uniforms to help erase traumatic memories.

“A lot of bad things happened when I was in the bush. If you don’t go and steal, you wouldn’t have something to eat, when the government forces attacked us, we would be on the run the whole day fighting with nothing to eat,” he said. “I don’t have clothes to wear, even these shoes, I stole them from someone.”

“I am the only one left. My mother died, and my father went to Bentiu but he didn’t come back. I am only hearing he was killed in the war because he’s a soldier. I don’t want to work in the army (militia) anymore.”

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