By Fredrick Nzwili*
As the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan gains ground, Christian and Muslim leaders have united to draw to attention to a growing conflict in Yei River state, which is displacing thousands while igniting a severe humanitarian challenge.
Kiir’s government and a number of rebel factions signed the revitalised peace agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in September last year. Although the pact included cessation of hostilities, six months later fighting has continued in Yei River state and greater Equatoria region.
With the conflict, Christian and Muslim leaders from Yei River state, say they are alarmed by the increasing humanitarian situation of internally displaced persons, returnees from refugee camps and the host community in their region.
The fighting has displaced an estimated 8,000 people, who have fled their home into Yei town, following killings and hacking of civilians in the rural areas, according to the religious leaders. Food has been burned in the attacks, property destroyed or looted, and livestock stolen. Scores of women and girls have also been raped, acts which have since brought back past memories of fear, pain and disillusionment.
“We denounce such barbaric acts of humiliation on the civilians and the destruction of their properties. We call on those who perpetuate these atrocities to cease with immediate effect,” said leaders in a statement signed by, among others, Roman Catholic bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe of Yei, Anglican bishop Hilary Laute Adeba of Yei and Sheikh Ali Moga, secretary general of the General Islamic Council of Yei.
“We urgently call for a halt (in the violence) and accountability on the atrocities being committed. We also call upon those entrusted with responsibility of protecting civilians to do so.”
The leaders recommend that the government and armed groups control their forces, and the army develop a good relationship with civilians.
Relief agencies say that some of those displaced by the violence have crossed to Democratic Republic of Congo, and keep moving back and forth. They return to collect food in South Sudan from refugee camps where they sheltered, but are not registered to collection rations. Health experts also fear such movement will finally transport ebola, the epidemic which is now wracking the Democratic Republic of Congo - to communities in South Sudan.
Troika countries (Norway, Britain and the United States), the guarantors of the South Sudan peace agreement, have expressed alarm at the escalating violence in Yei. The countries have termed the conflict as a flagrant breach of the December 2017 cessation of hostilities agreement and the revitalised agreement.
“We are particularly disturbed that fighting by all parties in the Yei area has severe humanitarian consequences for the local population,” the nations said in a statement, while expressing concern that as the situation escalates, the progress made in implementing the peace agreement will be irrevocably set back.
“In addition, if the violence against civilians continued unchecked, it could fuel further cycle of retribution and atrocities.”
*Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya