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South Sudan, DRC seek to resolve border disputes

Alison Lemeri
South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have formed border committees to try and ease rising tensions after reports of a DRC flag being hoisted in South Sudan’s Morobo County.
2.05.2016  |  Yei, South Sudan
Rene Ilume Tembele, DRC’s Ambassador to South Sudan (left), together with Stephen Lado, Yei River State Information Minister, speaking to journalists in Yei, April 2016. (photo: The Niles | Alison Lemeri)
Rene Ilume Tembele, DRC’s Ambassador to South Sudan (left), together with Stephen Lado, Yei River State Information Minister, speaking to journalists in Yei, April 2016. (photo: The Niles | Alison Lemeri)

On April 19, authorities in South Sudan’s Yei River State reportedly removed a DRC flag positioned by Congolese authorities in an area in South Sudan’s territory of Morobo County.

The flags were planted in Okaba, local residents and officials said, adding that the situation has returned to normal. A resident of Morobo County, Andama Hissen, said the removal of the flag led to an influx of Congolese forces, who re-erected their flag in the same area.

He added that citizens deserted the area when the forces arrived to replant the flag in the place where it was removed.

“It provoked the Congolese authorities who brought, of course, soldiers around there. Some of the residents even started vacating the area. The first two days, it was tense, security was tense, but now things are back to normal life,” he said.

“The flag was actually planted on South Sudan’s side,” he said, adding that the border has not been clearly defined.

Toti Jacob, the Commissioner of Morobo County, said that a flag was planted in his territory. “There was a flag brought from Congo and planted in our land Morobo. We shared it (this fact) in our meeting in Koboko, (Uganda). This flag was put on our land, in Morobo,” he said.

The border has been subject to numerous disputes between South Sudan and DRC. Citizens from both countries who are living in areas along the border are Kakwa people, who share the same language. Communities at the border have lived peacefully alongside each other for years, marrying across the geographic border.

Local chiefs from both countries should be consulted to solve the matter, said Joyce A’diye, a resident, predicting that the flag was placed three quarters of a mile (estimated 750 meters) into South Sudan territory. “I don’t feel happy because our brothers and sisters are displaced.

They have crossed the road and stay with other relatives,” she said. “There are nephews and uncles on both sides. To solve this situation, if they could sit down and then let them bring in the elders from both sides - they could explain and come to an understanding.”

The Niles was unable to get comments from residents on the Congolese side.

But the Congolese Ambassador to South Sudan, Rene Ilume Tembele, is among the committee members who will visit and assess the border areas.
Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Ambassador Ilume said his government remains committed to maintaining strong and peaceful international ties with South Sudan and resolving matters amicably.

He blamed some media for disseminating “wrong information” about the situation along the border, exaggerating the situation. He added that the two countries will keep working together “for the best interest of the two people and two countries”.

“This committee will go on ground to verify to see on the ground and to talk to the people. We are going to identify those who are creating problems and we are going to see what is really going on there,” he said.

Stephen Lado Onesimo, Minister of Information in Yei River State, said the committees would listen to local residents and administrators from both sides. He said the two governments will continue to handle the issue peacefully for the sake of the communities around the border.

“The two countries have enjoyed beautiful relations around the border,” Lado told journalists in Yei. “Their communities are actually enjoying the border relations without any conflicts. We are a peaceful community, they need to maintain that, to build a good relationship between the two countries.”

After completing their assessment in the border areas, the committees will immediately report to their respective country’s presidents – President Salva Kiir of South Sudan and Joseph Kabila of DRC, Lado said.

“Several flags of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been raised in the local community, which is the villages of Akaba and other villages around there,” he said.

South Sudan’s six member committee is headed by Jackson Abugo Gama, State Political Affairs Advisor, including members such as; Naptali Hassan Gale, State Speaker; Kenyi Abiaza, Secretary; Athanasius Yongule, Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement; Mary Apayi, Minister of Education and Gender as well as Morobo County Commissioner, Toti Jacob.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Ilume, with his committee from DRC, is expected to join them from Kinshasa, DRC.

The Yei River State Governor David Lokonga Moses in the meeting requested Ambassador Ilume to call for the withdrawal of the Congolese troops from the border and the lowering of their flags in the areas, to enable local residents to coexist peacefully.

In 2014, South Sudan had a violent border conflict with Uganda, following a fight between Kuku people of South Sudan’s Kajo-Keji County and Ma’di of Uganda’s Moyo District. The conflict led to the displacement of thousands of residents.

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