By Maker M. Marial
OPINION – In the afternoon of December 2, 2021, we arrived in the village of Atemwei southeast of Aluakluak town, Yirol West County, and received by jubilant relatives. We were on a mission to visit our grandmother and maternal relatives after many years. The last time I visited my grandmother was in 2015 during a peace conference in Aluakluak town. However, my brother Juma had not visited her for more than two decades. We were also traveling with our young brother with his wife and three kids. This was the first time for his family to meet our grandmother.
Over the years, this trip was planned and put off on several occasions due to inter-communal conflicts. However, with the news of peace returning to Lakes State, we never wanted to miss the chance, and we drove from Juba to Atemwei to visit our grandma and relatives.
It was a great journey even though we badly took off from Juba after being threatened by a colonel who accused us of not giving the way near Bilpam, South Sudan’s Military HQs. He blocked our car and took out his pistol to threaten us. We were shocked and couldn’t believe a high-ranking official could threaten people with a gun. The ordeal ended only after the intervention of the military intelligent officers who were behind us and witnessed the whole scenario. They encouraged us to proceed with our journey and leave the case to them. With this incident, we were afraid that our trip would have challenges, but it became a great journey than we thought.
We proceeded with our expedition and arrived in Guolyar late afternoon. We continued and arrived in Yirol at round 8:00pm and received by our cousin and his family. We spent the night there and heard about all the good things the peace had brought to the local community. We already saw peace on the way to Yirol. People were driving their cattle with sticks, unlike before when those driving their cattle along that road would arm themselves heavily for fear of attack on the way. In Yirol town, the market stayed late while people moved freely. Children were playing and music could be heard everywhere. The night was lovely.
In the morning, we took off from Yirol heading to Aluakluak. We stopped first at Payii to buy fish for the family. Here I had a chat with the fishermen and traders who came all the way from Rumbek to buy fish for sale in Rumbek market. I asked them whether they felt any security threat as they conducted their business and here are their answers: “Unlike before, we move freely. No one stops us or robs us. Our business is booming,” said one trader. “Peace has returned, and I appreciate Gen. Rin with his team for bringing peace back to Lakes State, “added another young man.
As we crossed to other side of the river, I talked briefly to one of the soldiers manning the bridge. I asked him about his thoughts about security situation in the area and he said, “security has improved greatly. Youths are surrendering their weapons. Every day they bring their guns to us, thinking we are the disarming force, but we turn them away because it’s not our mandate.”
We continued our journey and met a group of young people herding their cattle with sticks. I rolled down the car window and asked them, “where are your guns?” and they responded, “ask Rin, he took them.”
As we traveled the road, we saw cattle roaming without herders, and there were cattle camps along the main road. People were moving freely without fear. Agaar, Atuot, Cieic and everyone was moving without distress.
We arrived in Aluakluak and found the town alive. People were busy with their economic activities. And the life was normal. This town was the epic center of the deadly conflicts. Cattle raiders were using the place as lunch pad for cattle raiding into Akot and Paloc Payams and the locals were being attacked and killed in revenge as a result. Besides, the criminals from the local community were constantly raiding the town in the events their colleague was detained by local authorities. They were also looting the town to restock their food supplies.
A local police officer told me that the people in Aluakluak were experiencing a great peace. “People now sleep outside their tukuls. Some are returning to their deserted villages west of Aluakluak to reestablish their lives. Peace has come, I hope it holds,” he said.
We drove to Atemwei, about 10 miles from Aluakluak town, and reunited with our grandmother and maternal relatives. There were ululations and celebrations. People were happy to see us in the village again after decades. “Peace is real. Death has reduced. Stealing and cattle raiding have stopped,” Majur said. “All the houses you see around us here have graves in their compounds from the conflicts. We wouldn’t be sitting here if there was no peace. Criminals would have attacked us. They have now gone, and we are in peace. Thanks to Gen. Rin for bringing peace.”
We left Atemwei for Atiaba late afternoon. However, we had to stop at Hormayiep, about 7 miles from Akot town, to see our untie with her family. Her older son was still nursing his broken arm after he was shot in the arm in June while two of his cousins were killed when their oxen were raided. We didn’t stay long. We left for Atiaba, where we stayed until 9:30pm before taking off for Rumbek. We arrived in Rumbek at 11:00pm and found some shops still open and people in the market. This was unlike before when people would close their shops earlier in rush and before dark at to avoid robbery. People would also rush home for fear of attack by unknown gunmen.
During the four days we spent in Rumbek, we were shuttling between from Rumbek and Atiaba. We would leave in the morning and return at night. There was no security threat. On the day of our departure, we left Atiaba at 5pm, drove through the night and arrived in Awerial at 2am on Tuesday, December 7th. We could only see hyenas and small animals on the way. There is peace in Lakes State and the gains must be maintained.
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