Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

In the ethnically complex Greater Jonglei/Pibor area, cattle raids, revenge killings, child abductions and other forms of intercommunal violence have been going on for longer than anyone wants to remember. Repeated attempts to break this persistent cycle of mutual hostilities have largely failed, but recent interactions between Murle and Lou Nuer offer hope of more peaceful times to come.

In December last year, when the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and peace partners once again brought together youth leaders from the two feuding communities to try to resolve their differences, expectations were understandably low. After all, why would this reconciliation dialogue, in Likuangole County in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, result in anything more than another short-lived agreement to coexist in peace?

Fast-forward a few months and a series of new developments are, ever so slowly, turning sceptic doubters into cautious believers. Some, like Gatdet Gatluak, aged 27 but already a veteran member of the Lou Nuer’s White Army, are more optimistic than others.

“I have made several Murle friends, and mutual acts demonstrating good intentions have created a kind of trust that has allowed trade, agriculture, fishing, logging and construction of huts to flourish here in Burmath. I am loving this new peacefulness and will do everything I can to protect and nurture it,” he said, referring to his hometown in Akobo County, which, according to local authorities, used to be deserted and paralyzed by insecurity.

In January, following the promising December dialogue, Murle youth, sporting a white flag with the word “Ganon” (peace in their language) printed on it, travelled to Burmath for the first time since 2018. Their gesture of goodwill was reciprocated by their Lou Nuer peers, who waved a similar flag about as they welcomed their former foes.

In late January, intent on making the most of the momentum in the process of building closer intercommunal relations, UNMISS, together with the local non-governmental organization Peace Canal, organized a follow-up dialogue, this time in Wuno, also in Greater Pibor.

This second successful get-together ended with youth leaders from both camps embarking on a joint five-day-long peace caravan ending in Akobo.

Chuol Gew, a Peace Canal representative, accompanied the travelling party.

“It was a truly remarkable trust-building exercise,“ he recalls. “Both sides were generous and caring to each other. The Murle youth even brought two girls previously abducted from the Lou Nuer back to their home.”

On 8 February, a formal and profoundly meaningful exchange of more abductees took place, further consolidating a new beginning from which both parties are benefitting.

Acheren Nyathiko Gogola, a Murle youth leader, cherishes the significantly improved relations. For his people, frequently deprived of sufficient access to markets where they can trade their goods, the fledgling trust means that cattle can be sold in previously off-limit Burmath.

“On our part, we are determined to honour this newfound peace.  As long as we share honest information with each other, we will be able to prevent cattle raids and other hostilities from happening,” he told his Lou Nuer counterparts during the Wuno dialogue.

With the support of peace partners, Gatdet Gatluak is convinced that Lou Nuer and Murle communities can form even tighter bonds by working together on mutually beneficial projects, like markets and road repair work.

While future development and prosperity would of course be warmly welcome, Mr. Gatluak, having lost his father and elder brother in intercommunal fighting, is, however, aware of what must remain the top priority: preserving lives.

“The most important development is, after all, that (conflict-related) death has stopped. For that to continue, sustainable peace is fundamental.”

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

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