The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is worried about the safety and wellbeing of children and other vulnerable people amidst conflict in the greater Tambura area in Western Equatoria State.
Fighting has displaced an estimated 40,000 people, with some 17,000 of them seeking refuge in the neighboring Ezo County. Several thousand displaced persons are sheltering near the peacekeeping mission’s temporary operating base in Tambura.
A 17-year-old survivor of the conflict who managed to make it to Ezo recounts the ordeal that he and his three brothers have gone through.
“We went to the farm with our parents plugging groundnuts and suddenly three men came from the bush. They arrested our parents, but we managed to run away, and then we heard gunshots. I sneaked back into the farm and found the dead bodies of my mother and father. We then started the journey to Ezo County. We didn’t meet anyone along the way, so we didn’t have food and water,” he says.
Moses Bagari, a Child Protection Officer serving with the UN mission, said, is fearing the likely consequences of the ongoing intercommunal conflict.
“There are a lot of protection concerns, especially for children, who are very vulnerable. The situation might lead to many things: one, it may increase incidents of sexual gender-based violence, especially among girls. It may also increase domestic violence and even criminality. Many children may be recruited by armed groups because we have been seeing armed youth around and we don’t know most of them,” said Moses Bagari.
In efforts to prevent children’s rights from being violated, Child Protection and Human Rights Officers have been engaging with the organized forces in greater Tambura to create awareness on the Mission’s mandate, fundamental human rights principles, and the relation between the revitalized peace agreement and the need to keep boys and girls out of harm’s way.
A ceasefire, followed by sustainable peace, is what is needed, according to peacekeeper and Political Affairs Officer Robert Roba.
“When peace can prevail, you can see development happening. That is why making the organized forces understand the content of the peace agreement is vital,” he said, adding that the part of the peace deal focused on security arrangements is particularly important to implement without further delay.
As long as tensions are running high, the UNMISS Force Commander, Lieutenant General Shailesh Tinaikar, pledge that peacekeepers will continue to protect civilians in the area.
“Civilians say they have food in their villages but are afraid of going there. We will provide security in the areas where people can go back and collect what they need. We will mediate between the communities and help them get together and resolve the disputes which have risen recently. So, we hope and pray that the displaced can go back home as soon as possible,” he said.