UNMISS Force Commander, Lieutenant-General Shailesh Tinaikar, recently visited Marial Lou, Warrap state, to see first-hand the situation on the ground.
Accompanied by Anastasie Nyirigira Mukangarambe, the Head of the UNMISS Field Office in the state, Force Commander Tinaikar was also joined by state officials, including Acting State Governor Debora Uduel Akiech and other prominent state authorities.
The Force Commander’s visit came on the heels of recent intercommunal clashes. The most recent upsurge of violence in early July displaced some 5,000 people; schools, churches, and health centers were vandalized and a World Food Programme warehouse was looted by armed youth .
Wol Mario Maalok, acting payam administrator in Marial Lou briefed the visiting delegation on the situation. “The conflict between all of us has taken a toll and all parties have agreed that the only way forward for us is to resolve things peacefully so that our children can live free of fear and retaliation. In fact, many people who had fled when the clashes initially began, have now started returning to their homes.”
However, humanitarian needs still to be addressed.
“We lack medical facilities, shelter and food, though the presence of UNMISS peacekeepers here has enabled hospital staff to resume their duties. Many people lost everything during the conflict, and they need help to get back on their feet,” added Mr Maalok.
For her part, Acting Governor Akiech reiterated the state administration’s commitment to supporting long-term peace and conflict resolution in Marial Lou, saying that the government is in the process of convening a peace dialogue between the three feuding communities.
“I was in Juba when I was informed about the situation here and I am thankful for the efforts made by authorities in situ which has made it possible for us to be here today. Previously, this was not feasible,” said the Acting Governor.
She also urged the people of Marial Lou to support people who come here for protection. “I implore the community to safeguard those who come here. They need your help.”
Additionally, she stated that facilities such as schools and hospitals should be accessible to everybody. “The hospital should be open to everyone who needs medical attention and the school should be open for all children.”
Force Commander Tinaikar echoed the Acting Governor’s words. “UNMISS is here to make sure that all tensions are reduced and any conflict that exists is resolved amicably through dialogue and discussion. Our job is to protect innocent civilians who are caught in the crosshairs of violence and we are grateful for the cooperation we have received from state authorities. We remain committed to ensuring the protection of all communities living here,” he stated.
Tonj East and Tonj North counties in Warrap have historically reported significant intercommunal violence, caused primarily by cattle rustling incidents, resulting in the loss of human lives and the displacement of thousands of people, majority being women and children.
Marial Lou was the region’s humanitarian hub, but much of the infrastructure has been destroyed, including the area’s only referral hospital, and aid items looted in the recent outbreak of violence.
To counter this, UNMISS established a Temporary Operating Base in Marial Lou in early September, composed of civilian and uniformed personnel to stabilize the area through peacebuilding and conflict resolution.