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An atmosphere of camaraderie filled the air, as government and opposition forces greeted one another, hugging and interacting freely at a peace conference in Yei, which left many hoping for a new chapter in their lives.

“Time is ripe for us to bury the hatchet and forge a future of mutual trust, respect and socio-politico unity in order to foster reconciliation, healing and development,” declared Benjamin Danya Lomundu, an elder from Kupera County.

“I have lost everything to you: over 50 heads of cattle, more than 30 sheep, plus chicken and farm produce,” Mr. lomundu told government and opposition groups at the conference. “What I yearn for is genuine peace that I hope will now prevail after this meeting, so that I can work hard again to get new resources,” he said, before announcing, “I have forgiven you all.”

Jacob Aligo, Yei River area’s political advisor, contended that the war had, indeed, imperiled the population as he highlighted its consequences even further.

“War is not something to brag about,” Mr. Aligo said. “Besides its material and financial costs, it is unhealthy not only to the warrying parties but also to the very civilians who mostly bear the heaviest brunt of it.”

He said that seeing government and opposition forces interacting and smiling with one another had made him so upbeat that he felt the peace agreement – signed in Addis Ababa in September last year – was gaining new momentum.

“What is much more important in life than witnessing brothers and sisters forgiving and reconciling with one another after a bitter past?” he pondered, adding, “This war has only made us squander too much time to the peril of our innocent citizens.”

“Everybody is affected by this conflict through family separation, hate speech or hate crimes, inter-ethnic division and destruction of lives and property, taking us several decades back,” said Moris Kenyi, Opposition County Commissioner of Lainya. “I am even traumatized as I have not seen my beautiful wife and good children for over four years now. Time has come for us to heal our wounds left behind by years of war, so that we can reconnect with our dear families.”

To area Pastor Rufas Joel, forgiveness and reconciliation were much more than just coming to a conference to profess commitments.

“Forgiveness is not an alien concept but an intrinsic quality that must start with the individual. Forgive yourself first, so that the peace of heart you embrace will then radiate to your neighbours, enemies and friends, which will stand a high chance of being reciprocated by others.”

Although 60-year-old widow Madelena Seya agrees that peace is bearing some fruitful outcomes, she says she will be more convinced when its dividends come close to home.

“We are suffering too much. We don’t have food, shelter, medicine, cooking utensils and blankets,” Mis. Madelena said. “We drink either rain water or water from streams or swamps. It is when all roads are safe and when I can sleep deeply in my own house that can I say peace is now a reality, so I pray night and day for that to happen.”

James Mugo Muriithi, team leader of the United Nations peacekeeping base in Yei, said more engagement from top political elites was critical to ensuring free movement of civilians and humanitarian actors, reopening of roads, as well as repairing of broken culverts and bridges to aid mobility. He commended the peace conference for what it had achieved.

“I am so impressed by the degree of commitment demonstrated by the parties resulting in the drawing of vital recommendations, including establishment of an opposition co-ordination office in Yei town, formation of joint political and military committees and bringing on board all holdout dissidents,” Mr. Mugo said.

The two-day forum covering, from 9 to 10 August, drew approximately 1,000 participants comprising senior and junior commanders from the government and opposition forces, as well as state and county government officials around Yei River area. It was the fourth such conference in two months, covering four counties of Morobo, Mugwo, Lainya and Kupera, respectively.  

The United Nations Peacekeeping Mission’s Civil Affairs Division of Yei Base provided both technical and financial support to the ongoing peace initiatives, with the next ones targeting Morobo, Kajo-Keji and Yei County.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).