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The rain was pouring down when I was on my way to the office this morning, & so were my tears… My heart is heavy thinking about what happened in South Sudan…

My dear South Sudanese brothers & sisters… Whether you are Dinka, Shiluk, Nuer, or other tribes, please remember that you were ONE when you struggled in gaining your independence. Don’t let your diversity divide & tear apart your country.

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“I would also like to address a public message directly to the people of South Sudan: The United Nations stood with you on your road to independence. We will stay with you now. 

I know that the current situation is causing great and growing fear. You are seeing people leave the country amid increasing chaos. 

The United Nations will stay with you. We will do our utmost to protect you, to provide the humanitarian assistance you need, and most of all to help the country re-gain the path to peace.”  

Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General. 23 December 2013

For more information on the current situation in South Sudan please follow UNMISS twitter @unmissjuba & UNMISS facebook page.

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I took these photos when I covered the South Sudan independence day celebration in Malakal of Upper Nile State capital on July 9, 2011. Some of my photos have been chosen by UNMIS as its featured photos on its website this week.

Here are the original photos:

And this photo was used for my South Sudan independence day story:

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9 July 2011 – Malakal stadium today was filled with thousands of people who had flocked from all corners of Upper Nile State to celebrate the independence of South Sudan.
Included in the crowd were youth, women, school children, church officials, military, police, veterans and tribal groups like the Shiluk, Dinka and Nuer.
The celebration was opened with a reading of South Sudanese history and the independence struggle by two local youth. People then began marching, dancing and singing.
Opening the event, Upper Nile State Minister of Information and Communication Peter Lam Both congratulated South Sudanese people on gaining their freedom. “We are going to defend our country with whatever it takes,” he said.
Mr. Both also recognized efforts by South Sudanese to gain independence — women who had cooked for the Sudan People Liberation Army during the wars, soldiers who had died on the battleground and veterans.
“Today I want you to know that you are free and we should be proud because this freedom is (for) a lifetime,” the information minister said. “This independence is not achieved by one effort but all South Sudan people.”
Upper Nile State High Committee (for independence) Chairman Andrea Maya, who is also the deputy governor, concurred that South Sudan’s independence was a collective effort. “We were struggling for 50 years and we’re finally celebrating our freedom.”
The new South Sudan flag was raised after it was brought to Upper Nile State Governor Simon Kun Puoch by both government and tribal representatives. The national anthem was sung after the flag had been hoisted.
The ceremony, which was also attended by representatives of UNMIS, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and state counterparts, was cut short by the crowd’s enthusiasm to sing and dance after the flag raising.
Governor Puoch encouraged people in the state to use its resources wisely. “We have to work together to develop our country so we can realize our dreams — building bridges, providing clean water and electricity, and establishing agriculture so our economy will grow.”
He also stressed the importance of having a good relationship with the North (Sudan), “They are our brothers, we should not lose our relationship. This also can stabilize our economy to keep goods coming from the North to the South.”
In neighbouring Jonglei State, people of Fangak County began celebrating on the evening of 8 July with prayers, singing and dancing ahead of the official ceremony the next day.
“People from surrounding villages have gathered here in Phom El Zaraf and some more are on the way now,” Fangak County Commissioner James Maluit Ruach told an UNMIS team visiting the area yesterday 8 July.
Speaking about life after independence, Mr. Ruach acknowledged that the government must build up its capacities. “South Sudan has a lot of resources, but now the question is how to utilize them.”
The commissioner planned to tour Fangak County payams (townships) after independence to boost people’s confidence. “We (the government) need to unite South Sudan people and improve the infrastructure.”
The county is currently struggling with various problems, including food and shelter for displaced persons, landmines and Kala Azar disease, which infects about 15 people each day.
The World Food Programme has provided food and non-food items to the displaced, the World Health Organization has supplied medicine for Kala Azar and the Lutheran World Provision as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross have distributed seeds so people can begin cultivating.
This story was originally published on UNMIS website

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4 July 2011 – An UNMIS team visited Kaldak payam (township) in Jonglei State today to assess the security and humanitarian situation following the 23 April clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the rebel armed group affiliated with Gabriel Tanginye.

An estimated 254 people died and another 250 were wounded in the conflict, while those who were unharmed fled to neighbouring Canal and Phom El Zaraf villages. The township, located in Pigi County, has a population of about 2,000 people.

“People have started to return to Kaldak, although not all,” Moses Thou, Kaldak secretary of South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SRRC) told the UNMIS team.

According to area police, the security situation in Kaldak is calm now. “Thirty-five Southern Sudan Police Service (SSPS) officers have been deployed here to assist the community (with) security,” said SSPS Kaldak Commander Sergeant Major Akoch Thon.

But residents are in dire need of food and shelter, as homes were burnt to the ground and the planting season interrupted following the fighting.

“We wanted to start cultivating but it’s too late, (the) rainy season has started already,” Mr. Thou said. “What we are doing now is cutting some wood and selling (it). Once we get money we can go to Canal or Malakal to buy some food.”

Eight teachers are conducting lessons for some 520 students under trees, as their school was destroyed in the violence.

During and after the clash, UNMIS evacuated 70 of the seriously injured to Malakal in Upper Nile State, cleared landmines out of the area and assisted the Jonglei State authority in post-conflict investigations.

Humanitarian organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, helped to bury 17 of the dead, while Médecins Sans Frontières Holland provided medical care such as vaccinations, ante-natal care and medicine to residents for a week in June.

The World Food Programme conducted an assessment of non-food-items and food distribution needs. “We hope that humanitarian assistance will be arriving soon so we can start to rebuild our lives,” said Mr. Thou.

This story was originally published on UNMIS website on 4 July 2011.

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Recent fighting in Upper Nile State has left over 200 people dead or injured, thousands displaced and property looted or burned, according to local officials.

The clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and militia of so-called “Capt. Olony” began in Detim Payam,PanyikangCounty, on 6 March when a misunderstanding occurred between the two groups at a checkpoint, noted UNMIS Malakal Security Officer Gordon Benn.

“The clashes (then) affected surrounding payams, including Owachi and Wajak,” Mr. Benn said. “Many people ran for their lives and became internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Dollieb Hill and Malakal.”

After the clashes in Detim Payam, most of Capt. Olony’s followers scattered and hid, the security officer continued. “On 11 March, around 100 militia (fighters) came to Malakal to attack the town as their retaliation to … what happened in Detim Payam. They created fear and chaos in the community.”

The next day (12 March), six militias were surrounded by the SPLA and South Sudan Police Service (SSPS). With nowhere to run, they took refuge in theSOSChildrenVillageorphanage, making 103 children their hostages.

Shootings between the militias in the orphanage, SPLA, and SSPS resulted in 11 fatalities, including six militia fighters, four SSPS and one SPLA, while nine SSPS and five SPLA were wounded, according to Upper Nile State Minister of Information and Communication Peter Lam. Fortunately, the children all survived.

Following the Malakal fighting, the UN Mine Action Office (UNMAO) and MineTech removed seven mortars, four rockets, one hand grenade, and 200 assorted pieces of ammunition from around the town.

“UNMAO and MineTech International were thoroughly cleaning the town out from the unexploded ordnance (UXO) for three days in a row from the 15 to 18 March,” Security Officer Benn noted.

The exact number of people who were killed or injured in Detim and Malakal remains unknown. But according to Upper Nile State Minister of Information and Communication Peter Lam, the state government recorded about 107 bodies after the Malakal clashes.

Malakal Teaching Hospital received some 43 people who were injured in the fighting, said its medical director, Dr. Tut Gony. “Most of them were gunshot wounded. Unfortunately, six out of the 43 victims … died in the hospital.”

Dr. Gony said the hospital sought and received assistance from UNMIS to treat and evacuate the seriously wounded patients. “We have limited facilities so we referred three patients to UNMIS Indian Level II Field Hospital and requested seven patients to be evacuated toJubafor further treatment.”

During the Detim fighting, more than 30 wounded people were admitted to Malakal Teaching Hospital, including about 18 SPLA soldiers.

Payams head Chief Pagan Ajak said 45 bodies had been found in the river. “During the clashes, most civilians tried to run for their lives by all necessary means, including swimming in the river. Unfortunately, some of them drowned.”

Although these clashes were between the SPLA and Capt. Olony’s followers, civilians were also severely affected, as they lived inside the military barrack.

As In Sudan went to print, calm had returned to the area, according to Brig Gen. Edward Dud, Administrative Officer of Division 7 SPLA in Owachi Payam. “The situation is calm now, so we need people to return to their villages.”

Data gathered by Dollieb Hill Payam Authority indicates that some 3,430 households are now IDPs in the payam. Others fled to Malakal and surrounding bomas within Owachi Payam.

But identifying and recording the number of IDPs from the clashes is problematic, as many are living with friends and relatives.

Regardless where they were living, the IDPs were in urgent need of assistance, Chief Ajak said. “We, friends and relatives, are happy to help them, but we also have very limited resources,” said the chief. “They need shelter, food, non-food items to survive. But most of all, they need protection and security from the government so they can return to their villages.”

UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, including the World Food Program, UNICEF, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, had come to Dollieb Hill’s Obel boma to assess the IDPs’ needs, said boma representative Gatluak Peter Mobir.

And the Upper Nile State government had condemned the recent clashes. “We have placed the security organs around the town to protect the civilians and their property,” Upper Nile State Governor Simon Kun Puoch said at a Malakal press conference on 21 March.

“The Upper Nile State government and Government of Southern Sudan have formed a security committee to investigate the recent clashes,” Information Minister Lam, who also serves as spokesperson for the state government, said during a separate interview.

“There was a serious security failure here,” the minister added. “How come we weren’t aware that there were hundreds of people crossing the river with their weapons? In fact, we (the state government) invested a lot of money on security.”

The state government was working on a better security system by making several changes in the hierarchy, Mr. Lam said.

“Prior to the clashes, the head of Upper Nile State security committee was the Adviser of Security for the Governor,” he said. “Now we appointed the Upper Nile State Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement to be the Head of the State Security Committee. We are also going to review our funding allocation on security.”

The Upper Nile State Security Committee consists of the Ministry of Local Government and Law Enforcement, the Adviser of Security for the Governor, the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitution Development, SPLA, SSPS, Wildlife, Mine, and Prison Service.

On behalf of the Upper Nile State government, Minister Lam thanked UNMIS for its assistance during and after the clashes. In addition to clearing UXOs and assisting with the wounded, the mission also helped assess the security and humanitarian situations, conducted joint patrols with the SPLA and SSPS, and provided logistical support like air transportation around the counties.

This article is originally published on “In Sudan” magazine April 2011 edition on page 8 & its copyrights solely belong to UNMIS.

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The building that houses the six female inmates of Malakal Federal Prison sits directly behind the structure occupied by male prisoners.

A $1.4 million renovation financed by the Multi-Donor Fund and carried out by the UN Development Programme in 2010 has given the building for women prisoners a surprisingly clean appearance. The agency also donated bunk beds and mattresses for use by the inmates.

Another donation of food and non-food items valued at $500 was recently made to the female prison section with funds raised by The Alternate School of Greenfield Park in Canada at the instigation of its alumnus, Capt. Michael Marchand, who serves as an UNMIS military observer in the UNMIS Malakal sector.

But the spruced-up facility remains a place of involuntary detention for its inhabitants, who range in ages from 21 to 45 and are serving time mostly for theft and murder.

One of the convicted murderers is Nyabang Ukech, a 35-year-old mother of six who stabbed her second husband to death in June 2008, according to prison director Lt. Romano Deng Jok.

Her sentence is scheduled to end in March of next year. But Ms. Ukech could see her time behind bars extended if she fails to compensate her husband’s family for his death.

That compensation has been set at 20 cows or cash in the amount of 30,000 Sudanese pounds.

Ms. Ukech is required to come up with this so-called “blood money” payment under Sudan’s dual judicial system of traditional and official laws unless her former in-laws release her from this obligation.

“This ‘blood money’ is based on Sharia Law and mostly practiced in Islamic states,” said UNMIS Human Rights Officer Alfred Zulu. “She should be released from ‘blood money’ because she (will have) served her sentence in prison (by March 2012).”

Ms. Ukech said her relatives have shunned her since her incarceration. “They think I’m crazy,” she said.

But prison director Jok said that it is Ms. Ukech who has refused to receive her family members when they have tried to see her, adding that she sometimes engages in “abnormal behavior”.

The inmate has never undergone any psychiatric treatment during her incarceration because there is no psychiatric hospital in Upper Nile State and the government lacks the necessary funds to send her to Khartoum or Juba for that kind of attention.

Mr. Zulu said that Ms. Ukech should have undergone an evaluation for signs of mental illness before being put on trial for murder in the first place.

While Ms. Ukech could be looking at an indefinite stay in detention that would violate international law in Mr. Zulu’s judgment, the plight of a female inmate at Bor Central Prison seems even more iniquitous.

Athieng Ayuen Yen married a soldier in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in 1996 and bore him four children over the ensuing 13 years. At the time they were married, Ms. Yen’s relatives sought a dowry of 50 cows from her husband, as required by the traditional customs of Dinka culture, but the soldier delivered only 17 animals.

Her family’s longstanding sense of grievance over the dowry issue came to a head after Ms. Yen became pregnant in 2009.

Her relatives told her about a wealthy businessman who wanted to marry Ms. Yen and would pay them an ample dowry. Ms. Yen’s family ordered her to leave her husband, who had since married other women and increased his income as an SPLA officer without ever settling the bride-wealth debt.

Ms. Yen rejected the ultimatum, insisting that any decision to leave her spouse was hers alone to make.

Her relatives then obtained a court ruling that threatened Ms. Yen with the loss of her newborn son unless her husband finally came up with the 33 cows demanded by her family.

She rejected the ruling and was sent to prison, where she has spent the last 16 months raising her fourth child.

“My family and the new man they wanted put me in prison because I refused to be (his) wife,” said the 29-year-old inmate. “The child will be given to the new man if the father of my children fails to show up.”

On that score, Ms. Yen has little grounds for optimism. Her polygamous husband has yet to visit her or their son since they moved into the prison in 2009.

Written by Imelda Tjahja & Francis Shuei Diu

 

This article is originally published on “In Sudan” magazine March 2011 edition (page 12) & its copyrights solely belong to UNMIS.

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On a weekday morning in early November, William Muluta was standing in a Malakal classroom in front of a blackboard that posed the question, “What is science?”

“There are two types of science, static and dynamic,” the University of Nairobi science professor said in flawless English to the assembled 50 Southern Sudanese teachers. “And each has advantages and disadvantages.”

Mr. Muluta is one of 11 visiting professors from Juba University and the University of Nairobi who came to Southern Sudan to instruct in a programme aiming to improve the English-speaking fluency of primary school teachers.

Nearly six years have passed since the country’s peace accord was signed and a semi-autonomous government was set up in the south, but many primary school teachers in the border states of Southern Sudan still conduct classes in Arabic.

The practise is another legacy of an era when educational policy in the south was under Khartoum’s control, which the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) is trying to change.

Taking place under GoSS auspices at Malakal Institute in the Upper Nile State capital, the English training programme opened earlier this year with support from the World Bank. Similar sessions are being offered in Maridi and Rumbek.

About 300 primary school teachers from Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states were invited to the Malakal session, but transportation difficulties and the general security situation prevented 120 from arriving on time for the start of the programme on 26 October.

Gabriel Gony journeyed to Malakal in mid-October with 26 other colleagues from the northern Upper Nile State counties of Melut, Renk and Manyo. A ten-year veteran of the teaching profession, Mr. Gony said the training programme had been very fruitful.

“I have learned a lot so far,” he said. “I was taught to pronounce some English (words) correctly, and these trainers also advised us on some useful tips on how to teach students effectively.”

The programme offers participants a variety of courses ranging from biology, chemistry and math to arts and music, business and social studies.

Participants will be asked to help design an English-language curriculum for primary school students and draft written course materials.

But the training is facing some significant constraints. Noting that it ended in April 2011, University of Nairobi lecturer Karen Atieno said a two-year time frame would have been preferable to its present six-month duration.

Room and board are free of charge for the primary school teachers, but Mr. Gony said living conditions at the Malakal Institute’s dormitories were below standard.  “We need more sanitation, beds, mattresses and mosquito nets because some of us have to sleep outside due to limited rooms available. We also need pocket money so we can buy our own toiletries, washing soup, and medicine if we are sick.”

Upper Nile State Governor Simon Kun Puoch visited the Malakal Institute in mid-November and donated beds, mattresses, mosquito nets and volleyballs to alleviate the shortages.

The state government’s ministry of education also delivered new equipment for the science laboratory and assigned an information technology trainer to teach basic computer skills.

University of Nairobi Linguistics Lecturer Juliana Oswago also plans to seek assistance from UNICEF to acquire more textbooks and establish a library at the institute before her time in Malakal runs out.

 

This article is originally published on “In Sudan” magazine February 2011 edition (page 13) & its copyrights solely belong to UNMIS.

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