March 16, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan government officials agreed on Saturday to allow internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Jonglei state to remain in Nimule despite strong objections from locals.
Of 35,000 displaced persons registered by South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC) in Nimule, only 10,000 are thought to have remained in Nimule, with most either returning to Juba or continuing to neighbouring Uganda.
The indigenous Ma’di have objected to the settlement of IDPs from Jonglei, accusing the Dinka Bor of refusing to leave Nimule after a 2005 peace agreement ended more than two decades of civil war with the north that left millions of people displaced.
In January, the Eastern Equatoria state (EES) government formed a committee to assess settlement areas for displaced people from the war-torn states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile.
IDPs have refused a request by the state government to relocate to Kapeota and Ikotos.
EES governor Luis Lobong told a rally in Nimule on Saturday that IDPs had been well-received by some sections of the Ma’di community in Nimule.
“But when we visited the IDPs, they said they went there alone and are well received. The host community elders in that area concurred with the IDPs and said, ‘We welcomed them,’” he said, adding that the government had no choice but to allow the IDPs to remain.
Lobong said his cabinet had halted distribution of food and medicines to IDPs in February in a bid to force them to relocate to the new areas, but the ban was subsequently lifted earlier this month amid humanitarian concerns.
A team from South Sudan’s Crisis Management Committee (CMC), headed by deputy chairperson Daniel Awet Akot, visited the IDPs in the remote village of Milijo, 19 km south of Nimule, on Saturday morning with Lobong.
MA’DI OBJECT TO IDPS
However, at a separate public rally at St. Patrick primary school, leaders of the Ma’di community presented position letter outlining their objections to hosting IDPs from Bor, on the basis of past experiences.
The letter, read by a youth leader, expressed concerns over land grabbing fears, insecurity and harassment of local people by IDPs.
Meanwhile, representatives for the IDPs have denied occupying the land by force and say they are ready to work cordially with the host community.
The CMC committee, accompanied by lawmakers from Bor, have appealed to the Ma’di to reconsider their stance and allow temporary camps to be established for the displaced.
“If you go to Bor, Bentiu and Malakal to see the level of destructions in those states’ capital, you will sympathise with these innocent women and children seeking refuge in your area,” said Akot.
In a lengthy speech to the community during Saturday’s rally, Akot said all South Sudanese people had suffered together to gain independence, warning that “the game of tribes will tear this country apart”.
“Look at small countries like Rwanda and Burundi with more than 10 million people living side-by-side,” he said.
“God has blessed us with a vast and rich land. Why do we have to hate ourselves?” he added.
Police had to intervene repeatedly to restrain women protesting during Lobong’s and Akot’s speeches.
COMMUNITY HAS CHOICE
Ding Akol Ding, a Jonglei state minister of local government who represented governor John Kong during the visit to Nimule, accepted that the host community could not be forced to accept the IDPs.
“We are tired as [the] government of Jonglei state to be begging our brothers from other states to host our people,” he said.
He said local people had a choice in the matter and could either allow the IDPs to remain in Nimule or refuse to host them altogether.
Nearly one million people have been displaced in South Sudan since conflict broke out in mid-December, including 70,000 people who have crossed into neighbouring Uganda.
Jonglei was one of the worst affected areas, changing hands a number of times as government troops and rebel forces battled for control of key areas.
The fighting caused major damage to infrastructure in the town, with many people still too afraid to return to their homes despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement on 23 January.