South Sudan’s warring tribes sign peace deal | Africa | DW | 08.05.2012
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South Sudan’s warring tribes sign peace deal

Tribal leaders in South Sudan’s oil-rich Jonglei state have signed a deal aimed at ending a deadly cycle of inter-ethnic violence. Recent clashes have killed at least 1,000 people and displaced thousands.

The peace deal was signed by six chiefs on Saturday May 5 in Jonglei's capital Bor at a ceremony attended by tribal elders, youth leaders and state officials.

"We, representing the six communities of Jonglei state, commit ourselves to peace, reconciliation and tolerance among our communities," the chiefs said in a joint statement.

Hundreds of South Sudanese sit on the dusty ground

The peace deal could help displaced people return to their homes

Speaking after the ceremony, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir urged the warring communities to respect the peace accord and said development in the region could only be achieved if there was peace.

"Construction work in the state will halt until there are no more gunshots in Jonglei," Kiir was quoted in the Sudan Tribune as saying.

The United Nations envoy to South Sudan, Hilde F. Johnson, said the signing of the peace deal was an opportunity to say no to violence.

Irony of disarmament

Johnson, who was among 300 guests attending the ceremony, also stressed the importance of peaceful disarmament.

"We need to see peace reach the communities, the grassroots and the cattle camps," Johnson said at the closing of the ceremony.

The chiefs from the six communities of Dinka, Murle, Kachipo, Jie, Nuer and Anyuak also vowed to commit to an ongoing disarmament program, which started in mid-March.

A South Sudanese man carries a gun as children watch.

Many Southerners are reluctant to surrender their weapons

According to the South Sudan army, 10,000 illegally-held arms have been collected in Jonglei's 11 counties so far.

However, the disarmament program - the fourth to be carried out since 2005 - is controversial.

Tribes have in the past complained that disarmament was not carried out equitably throughout the ethnic groups, leaving some communities more vulnerable to attack.

According to a report by the UK-based organisation, Safer World, disarmament in Jonglei has failed to "adequately reduce the violent conflict " and exposed civilians to more violence.

"Disarmament in Jonglei has been characterized by violence against civilians, including summary execution, torture, rape and armed theft accompanied by displacement of civilians," the report, entitled Disarmament Deja-Vu, said.

Cattle that cost human lives

South Sudan's largest state has long been plagued by ethnic fighting over cattle grazing grounds and access to water.

Young men herd cattle through a mud-caked streets

Most of the rival tribes are traditional pastoralists

A series of cattle rustling raids between the Nuer, Murle and Dinka tribes in December and January saw the conflict escalate, with hundreds of people killed, thousands displaced, and houses razed to the ground in retaliatory attacks.

At least 1,000 people died in attacks throughout 2011 and an estimated 120,000 are affected by the violence, according to the United Nations.

The clashes have been fuelled by easy availability of weapons left over from Sudan's two decades of civil war that ended in 2005.

State key to country's future

The continued insecurity in Jonglei has been blamed for preventing development. South Sudan desperately needs to improve its roads, railways and infrastructure after it became independent from Sudan in July 2011.

The violence has also hampered oil exploration activities in the oil-rich region.

Author: Chrispin Mwakideu

Editor: Kate Hairsine

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