By Peter M. Garang
Despite the current economic hardship, civilians in South Sudan and particularly in Greater Bor were busy buying things in the markets. The aim was for them to mark the end of 2017 in style. Children and women stormed the markets and bought varieties of items including clothes and foodstuff for their Christmas and New Year celebration, whereas, men were indoors figuring out how the families would sustain themselves in upcoming days and months once the festivals are over.
However, from conflict perspective, some of the people in former Kolnyang payam – currently known as Bor South County were busy looking for weapons and hoes/fangas to own the tools with an aim of using these (weapons) to kill and bury themselves. That exactly what happened on 22nd Dec 2017 when a fight between two sections of Chueikeer broke out. The root cause of the conflict was controversial but has been blamed on ownership of land. A local media report attributes the eruption of conflict to ownership of grazing land and the naming of a village. One section wants the land and the village names it as Panweel while another section wants it called/named Anueet.
This has deeply divided the communities, and as a result the communities’ sharpened weapons did exactly what they [inciters/ringleaders] had been praying for – killing and wounding of innocent civilians. According to Hon Deng Mabior (the Commissioner of Bor South County) about 22 civilians were killed and 18 people injured during the clashes; some in critical conditions and were airlifted to Juba. There was also displacement of civilians from their original homes to either toch or other places like Bor town, Mingkaman and Juba where humanitarian situation was reported worse/dire. Livestock such as goats, sheep, cattle etc were either looted or driven to other places where children could not access their products. The displaced people who are said to be the lucky ones, also felt the impact when they (IDPs) spent most of their times in an open areas or under the trees in the December coldness locally called Aruot.
Fear of a revenge by opponents or those who lost their beloved ones dominate sleepless night, and has confined some youth in a confined location. Some youth are still at large, and do not want their locations to be disclosed to the public for the fear of a revenge or arrest.
Some of the children who were caught up by surprise during the deadly attack ended up being fatherless and helpless because their fathers were either killed or wounded. Others [children] left their contested school – Anueet/Panwel for unknown locations where the need to attend education was of the past, instead the needs and vision of children in pursuing education has accidentally or unexpectedly changed to community defense and cattle keeping.
Youth from the two sections did not only listen to their elders/leaders but also did not listen to government and the representatives from area. It was alleged that some communities in Kolnyang are having interests in the fight and were alleged to have joined/involved in the conflict. In-depth investigation to prove this is being carried out.
After hearing the fierce fighting between the sections, Jonglei state Government deployed troops (SPLA, SSNPS, prison depts., wildlife and Fire brigades) to the conflict zone to ease the tension and make peace in the area but the attempts failed to control and or de-escalate the situation. Some of the ringleaders and inciters including chiefs and youth leaders surrendered themselves to Jonglei Authority for apprehensions but few of them refused to be arrested.
Luckily enough, ICRC in partnership with South Sudan Red Cross/crescent in close coordination with the State Health Ministry were able to transport critically wounded to Juba for specialized treatment. It’s not yet clear whether the wounded from both sides are being treated in the same hospital in Juba or are being treated in different health facilities. And if by chance, they (wounded) are treated in the same health facilities; do relatives of different sections greet one another during the visiting hours? And if the relatives and the community intellectuals living in Juba greet one another, then why do they allow such thing to happen? Where were they, when the situation was being polarized?
Besides, military interventions, prominent elders/leaders from Bor community are also in the front-line in mediating a settlement to the conflict. Optimistically the parties would be reconciled and would live peaceful co-existence life but there is still a question of accountability in the mind of ordinary citizens.
It is not yet concluded what will the government of Jonglei State, as well as Bor Community do to stabilize the situation, but it is obvious and will remain as usual that people who committed crimes go unpunished. In this Chueiker situation, people who planted and polarized this conflict are still free and are allegedly spreading hatreds among the communities.
Peter Majak Garang is a student who pursues a degree in Conflictology with Open University of Catalonia, Spain. He is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.