Regular patrols by peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan are helping restore calm to Tonj in the Warrap region which has suffered a recent spike in intercommunal violence related to cattle migration.
The traditional practice of pastoralists moving their herds of cattle across South Sudan in search of grazing land and access to water has created tensions with local communities and farmers over the sharing of scarce resources as well as damage to crops by the migrating animals.
In Tonj, there have been a series of clashes in recent weeks that left dozens dead and many others wounded as a result of cattle raiding, land disputes, and revenge killings.
UNMISS peacekeepers have been conducting regular patrols to the area to help deter violence and the Mission’s Force Commander recently made a special visit to see first-hand the security situation.
Lieutenant General Shailesh Tinaikar urged the local communities to settle disputes peacefully.
“Communities need to be engaged. We are told disputes arise because of a shortage of water. Until such time when adequate water is available to everyone, we need to find solutions to the genuine problem that cattle migration brings so that these problems are resolved without the loss of life,” he said.
“Communities have welcomed our presence as we are in partnership with the local government. We need calm and stability to return to Tonj. But a lot needs to be done. As of now, we are deployed and if required, we are prepared to bring out our troops so that patrols are extended beyond Tonj town.”
Local community members appreciated the reassuring presence of the peacekeepers in the wake of escalating tensions, but fears remain about the ongoing risk of violence.
“It is because UNMISS is here that you see me coming outside,” said Asunta Mayom. “We are living in fear and don’t know when and where the next attack will take place. Let UNMISS come and help us. We are suffering and we can only turn to UNMISS for help now.”
Resident Deng Wol Madut said that intercommunal clashes have always been a problem. However, the most recent attacks had created an ongoing sense of insecurity in Tonj.
“Because of the situation, criminals are taking advantage and going to peoples’ homes and robbing them overnight,” he said. “We are happy that UNMISS came and their presence is instilling sense of security among the people.”
Acting Tonj Governor, Tobi Mawien Yout, described the general security situation in the area as calm. However, he said the recruitment process underway as part of the reunification of security forces was creating some concerns, particularly with the cattle migration season in full swing.
“The obstacle we are facing is that most of the regular forces have been taken to the training camp in Wau and this has created a security gap,” he said. “We have only few police who in fact do not have the necessary manpower and logistics to respond to crimes and other issues in a timely way.”
He welcomed the efforts of UNMISS to supplement security which is primarily the responsibility of the government.
UNMISS Kuajok Head of Field Office, Anastasie Nyirigira Mukangarambe, said her team had been working with local authorities to conduct shuttle diplomacy in affected communities since the violence erupted and would continue to assist with efforts to prevent and respond to any further outbreaks.