Shoring up trust among civilians and uniformed actors is key to ensuring a peaceful, prosperous future for South Sudan, and ensuring those impacted by erstwhile civil wars can finally trace their steps homewards agreed participants at an UNMISS-led training in Western Equatoria. Photo by Martin Siba/UNMISS
WESTERN EQUATORIA - “Protecting civilians is our main duty as soldiers,” said Captain Apollo Choul, Commander of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) in Mundri west, a county in Western Equatoria state.
Captain Choul was speaking at a workshop facilitated by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
The forum’s focus: Bringing together community members, SSPDF personnel and local police in a bid to enhance voluntary returns and ensure a safe, secure environment for Mundri residents.
“Having attended this sensitization session, I can assure you that our soldiers are aware about their role in protecting civilians at all times and I call on armed actors still operating in the bush to join us in keeping communities safe,” he added.
Organized by the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Protection, Transition and Reintegration Section, the training included interactive discussions on civilian attacks; harm caused to humanitarian workers; displacement of people; and protection as well as support for returnees, especially youth, to reintegrate into their communities and rebuild their lives.
Tensa Zanuba Emmanuel, a resident of Kediba town participating in the workshop, spoke about the improved security situation.
“As women, we have lived through a time when it was impossible for us to traverse even a small distance unaccompanied because we would either be robbed, beaten or rape,” she recalled. “We are very happy that things have changed to the better and we feel much safer now, though much more needs to be done to help establish lasting peace and stability,” she stated.
Building and sustaining relationships of trust between civilians and military actors were key issues discussed during the forum.
All participants agreed that more interaction and confidence-building efforts were needed between community members, including women, young people, traditional leaders, and uniformed personnel to ensure social cohesion.
For Mundri East Commissioner, Margaret Fozia Emmanuel, it is imperative that such trust-building initiatives should extend to all armed actors.
“It is our hope that all uniformed personnel participate in such trainings to make sure we are all on the same page, especially when it comes to protecting women and children,” she averred. “This will go a long way in encouraging our people who were internally displaced to turn their steps homewards,” she added.
Anthony Mouidie, an UNMISS Protection, Reintegration and Transition Officer reiterated the importance of lasting peace in ensuring voluntary returns.
“UNMISS is working with all parties to the Revitalized Peace Agreement with the aim of shaping a more peaceful, prosperous future for South Sudan. For sustainable peace, it is vital that security actors have the confidence and trust of citizens. With that trust bank will come a time when people who fled their homes in fear of their lives finally get the chance to leave the wounds of past hurts behind,” he averred.
This workshop is part of a series of similar undertakings organized by UNMISS across Western Equatoria state to build consensus around the need for durable peace and encourage voluntary returns.