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South Sudanese women eye greater role in peace building

By Denis Elamu JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- Despite bearing the brunt of more than three years of violent conflict, South Sudanese women have vowed to be on the frontline and champion peace and reconciliation in the world’s youngest nation.

Sarah James Ajith, who heads the support for women in governance organization, is one of the female activists in the country’s peace cause.

In a recent interview with Xinhua, Ajith said they were participating in stakeholders meetings in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with peace mediators, government and SPLA-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) to help end the ongoing skirmishes.

“We have been doing a lot of advocacy in Addis Ababa, meeting with government, opposition and peace mediators,” Ajith said.

Ajith is also part of a peace advocacy task force comprising ten women from various groups promoting awareness and disseminating peace messages in remote parts of the country.

“Last month we had a peace building conference in Bor, capital of Jonglei state, supported by international partners. We have been doing awareness and some women are involved in expanding the task force,” she told Xinhua.

South Sudan has been beset by civil strife since December 2013 that has caused tens of thousands of deaths and massive displacement of civilians.

Despite a peace agreement signed in 2015, conflict erupted again in July 2016 and spread to once peaceful Equatorial region.

The United Nations in late February declared famine in some parts of the country, including in Unity state’s Mayendit and Leer counties where 100,000 people are starving, with over 1 million on the brink of starvation.

It remains to be seen whether the national dialogue, initiated in late December 2016, will end the conflict. Meanwhile, the UN has expressed fear of ethnic cleansing that would lead to genocide as fighting intensifies in some parts of the country.

The warring factions have been accused of rapes, looting and killings in Yei town South West of the capital and Kajo Keji border town, where majority of those fleeing to Uganda are coming from.

Elizabeth Amer Manyok, head of the South Sudan Women Block, a loose coalition of local women groups, told Xinhua that they are advocating for political, economic and social empowerment of women through lobbying the UN and aid groups to reach out to internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“Our focus is humanitarian support to those in need because the country has been hit by economic crisis due to conflict. Without food our country is in crisis. You cannot make peace when somebody is hungry, and IDPs want to go back home,” Manyok said.

Meanwhile, Festus Mogae, head of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), a peace monitoring body, said women have suffered injustices and borne the brunt of the conflict but they continue to protect and provide for South Sudan’s families and communities “with unfailing courage and commitment.”

“The women of South Sudan are strong and capable and we would wish to see their contribution increase across all aspects of national life,” Mogae said.

“Peace processes are inevitably more successful with strong female involvement and I firmly believe that there can be no sustainable peace in South Sudan without the full participation and leadership of women,” Mogae added.

South Sudanese women have been calling for adequate political representation from 25 to 35 percent to enhance their clout in political, social and economic spheres.



Aid group condemns convoy attack in South Sudan

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- The International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Thursday condemned Tuesday’s attack on its convoy by gunmen in South Sudan’s Yirol East County.

IOM Director General William Lacy Swing in a statement condemned the attack on a humanitarian convoy that resulted in two deaths.

The convoy was reportedly returning to Yirol from a field mission when one of the vehicles was ambushed by unknown gunmen.

An IOM health officer sustained gunshot wounds but his condition was said to have stabilized.

“This tragic attack on aid workers and civilians is appalling. The assault took place in an area of South Sudan in dire need of assistance due to a deadly outbreak of cholera,” he said.

He said the attacks compromised the ability of humanitarian partners to provide assistance to millions in need of lifesaving aid.

The identity and motivation of the attackers remain unknown, the statement said.

The attack on IOM convoy came after eight aid workers of the U.S-based evangelic group Samaritan’s Purse were abducted on Sunday at Guelguk by SPLA-in opposition (SPLA-IO).

They were later set free on Wednesday.

A joint IOM health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) team of 12 people had been deployed to Yirol East County on February 17 to provide assistance to communities affected by a cholera outbreak that began in early February, with more than 300 cases and 10 deaths reported to date.

IOM says it is responding to the emergency needs of millions in South Sudan affected by the crisis that erupted in December 2013. Over 7.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance this year, including nearly 5 million facing severe food insecurity and 1.8 million displaced internally.


South Sudan hails Sudan for opening borders to facilitate aid delivery

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- The Government of South Sudan on Thursday lauded its northern neighbor Sudan for allowing relief agencies to use its territory and airspace to deliver food aid to drought victims.

Minister of Health Riek Gai Kok told journalists the positive development will help reduce the cost of transporting humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons affected by famine.

“The government of Sudan has given permission to international organizations to buy food from Sudan and ferry in to South Sudan by road or air. International aid agencies outside South Sudan have also been given permission to intervene through those corridors,” Kok said.

A delegation from Sudan led by State Minister of Health, Dr. Somaya Idriss Akad arrived in the South Sudan capital, Juba Thursday morning accompanied by 15 tonnes of assorted food items and medicine donated by the Afro-Arab Youth Council to help civilians displaced by war and famine.

Akad said that her government would deliver additional humanitarian aid by road to the regions of Unity and Barh-el gazel where food insecurity is more severe.

The move came shortly after South Sudan government and three United Nations agencies declared a localized famine in the country which they blamed on the three years of conflicts in the world’s youngest republic.

According to UN estimates, 100,000 people face famine in South Sudan while one million people are on the brink of starvation.

The two countries in September 2012 signed a number of cooperation agreements to shore up relations between them after they parted ways following a referendum in 2011.

However, the cooperation agreements remained stalled for years as the two countries continued to accuse each other of supporting rebels hostile to either side.

Sudan has on several occasions closed its borders with South Sudan and denied passage of relief aid into the war-torn country through its territory.

The two neighbors in June 2016 renewed bilateral ties and declared zero tolerance to rebel groups threatening their stability.


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