Government and opposition forces at a trust-building forum in
Torit promised each other safe passage.[UNMISS]
SAMIRA Y. SALIFU, UNMISS
Emotions were palpable as over 200 officers of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition filled the large auditorium for their meeting in Torit, aimed at consolidating peace in the Eastern Equatoria region. The clergy and civil society representatives were also present.
“Let us show the world that we can live as one and not in pieces,” urged DavidicaIkai Grasiano, chairperson of Itwak women’s association in Torit.
“We want to see the armed forces as symbols of hope and no longer as sources of fear,” said Arkangelo Wani Lemi, bishop of the African Inland Church.
“If you are right then you should not get angry. And if you are wrong, then you have no right to get angry,” added Paride Taban, the retired bishop of Torit.
Their pleas, hopes and philosophical ponderings did not go unnoticed by the armed powers that be.
“Many long wars have been fought in the world for different reasons. Let us not forget that ours begun with the fight for independence and that we remain brothers and sisters,” stressed Major General Robert Ewot Okimo, Chief Administrator for the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, as the country’s recently renamed army is known.
“Our people have scattered all over the world because of our misunderstandings. This is not right. It is now time to unite,” added Major General Benjamin John Baptista, acting Sector Commander of the principal armed opposition group, named the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition, still reflecting its origin in pre-independence times.
After months of behind-the-scenes deliberations, these officers had agreed to meet under the auspices of a trust and confidence building workshop organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, in collaboration with the Ceasefire Transitional Security Arrangement Monitoring and Verification Mechanism.
“We have been in conflict with each other for so long that now our people have lost faith in us,” admitted Tobiolo Alberio Oromo, the Torit governor.
The one-day forum, also attended by local top government officials, was aimed at re-establishing severed ties caused by the 5-year-long civil war.
Intent on making concrete resolutions, discussions ran late into the night. Besides committing to the creation of a safe passage to areas under each other’s control, both parties also considered ways of sharing intelligence, establishing an office of coordination and the creation of a temporary joint police force to encourage displaced persons to return home.
In September 2018, the main parties to the conflict in South Sudan signed the revitalized peace agreement to end the political turmoil in the country. It is hoped that the accord, if implemented, will bring durable peace to the world’s youngest nation.