Residents of until recently squabbling communities in Ikotos County had lots to tell a visiting delegation, which included UN peacekeepers. Photos: Okello James/UNMISS
EASTERN EQUATORIA- A four-month-long conflict among the communities of Chorokol and Ikotos has come to an end following a church-mediated peace dialogue.
“Our people have now resumed movements on the road to Ikotos town. Until recently, it wasn’t possible because of insecurity,” said Loholong James, a youth leader in Chorokol.
During a weeklong integrated field trip to the affected villages, conducted by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, United Nations Development Programme, World Food Programme and the Ceasefire & Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring & Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM), locals briefed the visitors on the impact of enjoying peace in the area.
Prior to the reconciliation dialogue, tensions had grown worse between the communities because of disagreements over cattle, revenge attacks and targeted killings, which claimed more than 20 lives, including that of a humanitarian worker.
The two-day forum in August, organized by the South Sudan Council of Churches and partners, aimed at ending the cycle of violence, and saw participants agree on 31resolutions as guiding principles to maintain stability.
That initiative came in the wake of another retreat organized for politicians from the area, which focused on identifying the root causes of the dispute.
Security in Ikotos town and its surrounding villages has stabilized, with life returning to normal. Currently, many of those who fled their homes are returning, which in turn is boosting trade.
“We are now seeing prices of goods going down. We used to buy one jug of sorghum at 1,000 South Sudanese pounds, but with the return of peace it now costs 700,” said Sabina Celia, a women’s group representative in Ikotos town.
To avoid a repeat of violence, community members are expected to make a final pledge to maintain peace in mid-October.
“Although we have not arrived at the point of absolute reconciliation, the current situation indicates that people are eagerly waiting for this new-found peace to hold,” said Peter Ben Louis, Father in the Isoke parish.
For Hercules Ayahu Abalu, a Civil Affairs Officer serving with the peacekeeping mission and part of the delegation who travelled to the area, finding peaceful alternatives to resolve conflicts is crucial.
“We have come to follow up on your wellbeing and to encourage you to keep promoting the relative harmony you have managed to establish between yourselves since our last visit,” he told the community members he met.