South Sudan

Distrust between military and civilians makes life difficult in Yei

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Otto Robert Awata

As the July 2016 outbreak of violence in Juba spread further south, relations between civilians and military deteriorated in Yei. The few remaining civilians stay in the town of Yei, as straying beyond a 5-kilometre radius around the town means being considered a “rebel”, and thereby a legitimate target, by some.

“We cannot differentiate between civilians and the rebels because rebels also wear civilian clothes, and we don’t get any information on the whereabouts of rebels”, SPLA Colonel Kuol Majok explained at a workshop aimed at improving civil-military relations.

Alfred Sebit Aligo, executive chief in Yei County, said that there is no cooperation between civilians and military and therefore doubts whether it will be possible to restore peaceful coexistence in Yei.

“Uniformed people and civilians are not cooperating. If a soldier enters the market, civilians run away. How can peace be established under such conditions?”

Michael Wondi, a 75-year-old former soldier, said that the military discipline prevailing during his time with the armed forces seems to have evaporated.

“During our time we didn’t burn houses, we didn’t loot the property of civilians, neither did we rape women and girls. Unfortunately, these activities have become the order of the day.”

“We feel safe if UNMISS is here, but as soon as UNMISS leaves, we feel like we will not see the next day”, Hawa Adam, a female workshop participant said, appealing to UNMISS to re-open its former base in Yei to enable displaced people to return.

Justine Abugo, Advisor on Political Affairs in Yei River State said misconduct by some soldiers is to blame for poor relations between civilians and military, adding that bringing both groups together will be difficult as long as the military is not perceived as a “professional institution”.

Stephen Lado, Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports in Yei River State, says that the military personnel are few but feared.

“There is serious gap between civil population and military. Military personnel compose two per cent of the population in Yei, but people are afraid of them because they are armed. Just 30 of them alone can destroy the entire state”.

The workshop was organized by the UNMISS Civil Affairs Division and was attended by some 70 people, including youth, women local chiefs and military personnel. Participants agreed that organized forces need to be properly trained on how to treat and deal with civilians.