“When we arrived in Loriyok (between Torit and Kapoeta) everyone hid their guns and stayed calm. That would not have happened if the UN peacekeepers hadn’t been with us” said Oyet James Nathancio, the General Secretary of the South Sudan Council of Churches.
He is here, in Eastern Equatoria State, together with some twenty other members of the Council. They have been flown from the capital Juba to Torit, where peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan are protecting them as they move about the state.
The mediation team, as they call themselves, has spent eight days in the state to meet a total of 90 political and other leaders plus women and youth in three areas plagued by intercommunal conflicts. The frequent outbursts of violence have claimed countless lives in cattle raids, robberies and revenge killings.
Having been unable to reach durable peace agreements, despite several attempts, members of the affected communities in and around Torit, Kapoeta and Loriyok all agreed that a visit from the Council of Churches would be a good idea.
Growing tensions in these areas meant that assistance from the UN peacekeeping mission was necessary to safely organize reconciliation sessions with key stakeholders.
“Today I can see the protection of civilians mandate of the Mission in action, and that is good,” said the General Secretary.
Among the issues discussed in the three locations visited were problems related to weak state institutions and poor economic management, resulting in desperate communities engaging in cattle raids, road ambushes and other criminal activities.
In Budi County, rivalling parties seemed to reconcile.
“We are brothers and sisters, yet we have lived for years without interacting and sharing. But look at us now, when we are hugging each other with tears of joy running down our cheeks,” said Christine Naboi. She is a member of the national legislative assembly and very pleased with the outcome.
The same goes for Emmanuel Jinto, a young man who has lost more than ten family members to the conflict that has ravaged parts of the Loriyok district.
“I don’t want anyone to seek revenge for my dead relatives. I forgive them, and I beg them to forgive me as well,” he said. “In fact, I would love to educate their children not to kill people.”
Moving forward, previously clashing communities can count on continued support from the visiting mediation team, the peacekeeping mission and Mark Lokidor, Minister of Peacebuilding in Eastern Equatoria State.
“Our ministry stands ready to work hand in hand with the South Sudan Council of Churches and other partners to achieve sustainable peace in the state,” he said.
The community consultations, not least with youth groups, leading to the mediation team travelling to Eastern Equatoria State have also been supported by the United Nations Development Programme and the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development.