PRIYANKA CHOWDHURY “As a mission, our primary goal has always been to prevent violence breaking out and to protect civilians when needed,” says David Shearer, the top United Nations envoy in South Sudan and head of the peacekeeping operation, UNMISS.
“We’re currently in the middle of the dry season here,” he continues. “It’s always a tricky time because nomadic herders start moving their livestock to find grazing land and water. This cross-country movement creates tensions with those farming settled lands. Herders sometimes allow cattle to graze on cultivated crops and farmers retaliate to protect their resources which can lead to conflict, loss of life and displacement,” reveals SRSG Shearer.
To reduce the risk of violence, UNMISS peacekeepers have adopted a more mobile approach by establishing temporary operating bases near seasonal cattle migration routes.
In Cueibet, a county in the Lakes region, Nepalese peacekeepers serving with UNMISS established a temporary operating base in November 2020 as part of a proactive measure to build confidence among local communities and deter potential skirmishes.
“Establishing this base ahead of time worked in the mission’s favour as our peacekeepers were able to de-escalate rising tensions when opposing armed groups were mobilising some ten days after we arrived on the ground,” says Lieutenant-General Shailesh Tinaikar, UNMISS Force Commander.
Intercommunal tensions have continued to flare up in Cueibet in subsequent months but on most occasions, intensive patrolling by Blue Helmets, frequent community engagement and gender-sensitive outreach conducted by the mission’s Female Engagement Team from Nepal have gone a long way in ensuring that civilians living in and around the area can continue with their normal lives.
“Following repeated incidents where UNMISS peacekeepers were informed of threats and tensions, I visited the temporary operating base in December and was very pleased with the robust conflict mitigation measures that our peacekeepers had put in place,” states Force Commander Tinaikar.
“Apart from intensive patrolling, our troops engage regularly with community leaders and members; this helps us receive early warnings about incidents which may escalate into a full-scale armed clash and we are able to defuse the situation ahead of time,” he adds.
Uniformed peacekeepers are also working with the mission’s Civil Affairs Division to facilitate numerous peace events and community sensitization on the importance of dialogue as well as peaceful reconciliation of disputes.
“We take a whole-of-mission approach towards protecting civilians. An important part of this is a military presence to deter violence but we place equal emphasis on changing mindsets and ensuring local populations are educated about the benefits of peace and reconciliation,” states SRSG Shearer.
The situation in and around Cueibet continues to be unpredictable and peacekeepers are still channelling day-to-day interactions and patrols with community members living here.