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UNMISS addresses intercommunal tensions at dialogue forum in Raja County

Political tensions and an influx of returning refugees and internally displaced persons are creating problems in Raja County. UNMISS organized a dialogue to address a multitude of issues. Photo: Dawit K. Tedla/UNMISS

WESTERN BAHR-EL-GHAZAL- The return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes is a significant peace dividend, but it is one that comes with a challenge: how does one successfully resettle and reintegrate these returnees without creating conflicts between hosts and newcomers?

When recent political tensions are added to the mix, as is the case in Raja County in Western Bahr-el-Ghazal State, the task becomes even more complex.

“The frictions we are witnessing risk leading to intercommunal conflicts resulting in huge losses of lives and property. For this reason, our youth must change their attitudes when it comes to revenge attacks. They need to understand that peaceful dialogue is the way to create social cohesion and unity,” said Santino Kornick Sali, Executive Director in Raja County.

To discuss and address these issues, the national non-governmental organization Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the state government gathered key stakeholder in the area for a two-day dialogue.

With the recent renewal of the peacekeeping mission’s mandate stressing protection of civilians, particularly those falling victim to political violence, the event became even more topical, with local authorities, tradition leaders and youth, women and civil society organization representations all trying to find sustainable conflict resolution solutions.

Relationships between communities in Raja County, plagued by long-standing tribal animosities, have been souring further because of disagreements related to mineral deposits and mining rights, making the quest for durable intercommunal peace still more urgent.

Several dialogue participants emphasized that collective action at the grassroots level is needed.

“We should not wait for the government or individuals to come and teach us how to make peace among ourselves. We should start going from house to house, preaching peace and building peace, to forget the bitterness of past conflicts. If we stay united and speak with one voice, services like schools, hospitals and roads will come our way,” said Sebit Arkangelo Rufai, a chief from Hai-Matar.

His thoughts were echoed by Teresa Batista Salim, a fellow chief from Karabuna.

“The implementation of peace in our country is not just the duty of the national government, it is something all of us, every citizen, is responsible for,” she stressed.

The way forward, those in attendance agreed, includes the initiation of a community reconciliation programme, the establishment of an intercommunal committee to oversee these activities, more engagement with local authorities and the strengthening of social cohesion by means of sports and cultural activities.

Justin Atit, a Civil Affairs Officer serving with the UN peacekeeping mission, applauded the commitment to peaceful relations demonstrated by the stakeholders at the forum.

”By creating an environment where you can amicably sort out any issue between the host community and returnees you will see Raja County prosper again and also contribute to peace at the national level,” he said.

To mitigate the effects of subnational violence on civilians, UNMISS has adopted a more proactive and mobile approach by establishing temporary bases in hotspots. Last year, UNMISS established 125 such temporary bases to prevent and respond to conflicts. In 2021, the peacekeeping mission also supported 170 conflict resolution engagements, yielding 34 local peace agreements.