Some 51 participants came together at a two-day forum organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
The focus of the workshop: Conversations on ways to improve relationships between uniformed personnel and civilians in conflict-ridden Upper Nile.
“Since conflict broke out in 2013, our relationship with state authorities, especially those in uniform, such as police or military actors deteriorated,” reveals Wilson John, one of the participants.
The main reason for this breakdown, according to Mr. John, was that ordinary civilians began to fear people in uniform.
However, he acknowledges that times have changed and as South Sudan begins its long overdue democratic transition by beginning to draft a permanent constitution and gear up for its first-ever inclusive, credible, and peaceful elections, it is a worthy endeavor to mend the cracks.
“Over the past two days we have been able to have free and frank discussions on key issues,” says Mr. John. “This has given every participant hope that despite all the troubles and suffering we have endured it is now a moment in our history where we must move forward. An important aspect of looking towards a peaceful future is rebuilding relationships of trust between civilians and uniformed personnel as well as local law enforcement,” he adds.
Wide-ranging topics were addressed at the two-day gathering led by the UN Peacekeeping mission’s Civil Affairs Division, including protection issues, the disarmament of civilian populations and, above all, efforts at restoring trust among all community members and South Sudan’s security sector actors.
For Brigadier General Younes Kuol, a participant from the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, these 48 hours were necessary.
“It has been a platform where we engaged with civilians and explained to them the role we play in ensuring a safe and secure environment,” reveals the Brigadier General. “I think we were able to clear many misconceptions about the role played by the country’s military—we are here to protect people, not harm them,” he states emphatically.
For his part, Paul Ebikwo, Civil Affairs Team Leader from UNMISS, was heartened by the large turnout and active participation by everybody attending the forum.
“We are grateful to state authorities for supporting this initiative because such dialogues are critical to begin the process of establishing a lasting peace in Upper Nile, and indeed, across South Sudan,” he avers.
Mr. Ebikwo’s words were echoed by then Acting Governor of Upper Nile, Keat Nguoth Tiem.
“We pledge to do everything in our power to protect our citizens and make sure they can lead lives which are free of fear.”
A civil-military working group has been formed to take forward all the recommendations by stakeholders participating in the forum.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).