By Samira Salifu
While the formation of a unity government has been postponed by another 100 days, opposition forces in Eastern Equatoria continue to register at the five assigned cantonment sites in the region: Nyara, Irube, Lowareng, Kapoeta and Ashwa.
“Soldiers trek from Imotong [about 35 kilometres from Torit] to be registered here [in Nyara] as they have no means of transport,” says General Benjamin John Baptista, deputy commander of the South Sudan People's Liberation Army in Opposition located here.
“I walked for three days from Ikotos with my soldiers, just to make it here,” said Brigadier Santo Loyereng.
Their remarks were made when a United Nations mission integrated patrol team arrived at the Nyara cantonment site, some 20 kilometres from Torit, to monitor the human rights situation and engage with the assembled forces, community leaders and government officials.
“We are here because we need to be involved in the peace process,” said Major General Edward Odongi, the divisional commander of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance in the region.
“They [the Opposition Alliance] do not have their own cantonment site, so they are here with us,” explains Major General Okongo, the chief of operations for the South Sudan People's Liberation Army in Opposition in Eastern Equatoria.
“Some are arriving with their families and we cannot turn them back, so we have children living here,” General Baptista added.
Indeed, on the peacekeeping mission’s arrival, the story of Josephina James Ajongo came to the fore. She followed her husband to the site despite being heavily pregnant. In fact, her baby was delivered just a few hours before the arrival of the United Nations patrol, with Ms. Ajongo still affected by the aftermath of childbirth.
Among other matters, the visiting peacekeepers wanted to find out about the possible impact of the presence of a cantonment site on nearby villages.
“You took up arms to protect civilians, so any other interests you may have must give primacy to good relationship with these communities,” cautioned Francis Shuei, a representative of the peacekeeping mission.
When soldiers ‘take over’ an area, some of the residents in the vicinity believe that their youth will be tempted to join their camp, possibly in a bid to survive under their protection.
“We met with community leaders when we arrived and mutually agreed to live in peace,” said General Okongo.
1,400 soldiers had already registered when the peacekeeping mission visited the site. However, according to General Baptista, despite the initial joys of arriving at the cantonment site, some of them soon return to their villages, disappointed by the rudimentary living conditions they find on the ground.
The circumstances surrounding Ms. Ajongo’s childbirth exemplify the situation.
“One of the soldiers helped me deliver my baby with only painkillers. There are no medicines here, you see.”