U.N. Peacekeepers Intensify Military Patrols In Pibor County

The Indian battalion patrolling in Chindura. The UNMISS has launched sustained patrols in areas outside both towns to help create a secure environment. [UNMISS]

The mission has launched sustained patrols in areas outside both towns to help create a secure environment which allows civilians to safely return to these towns and access the ongoing food distribution.

The patrols are being conducted daily, both on foot and vehicles, moving beyond the boundaries of both Pibor and Gumuruk towns and covering a radius up to 18 km so far. 

During the patrols, peacekeepers locate vulnerable displaced civilians affected by recent fighting, interact with them, explain the situation in Pibor and Gumuruk towns and the ongoing food distribution, and gather information on the location of other civilians and their condition.

UNMISS has received the support and cooperation of the Government of the Republic of South Sudan, the SPLA, the Pibor County authorities, as well as armed groups in the area where patrols are conducted. The intensive patrolling is part of continuing efforts by UNMISS to bolster the implementation of its protection of civilians mandate and to help establish an improved security environment.

About 90,000 people in restless Jonglei State are feared still missing following ethnic violence and internal rebel activities that flared over in the region, Doctors Without Borders/Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) said Tuesday.

28,000 people according to MSF are being accounted for by local authorities in and around Gumuruk village where MSF runs a health centre, but few of these people are receiving the assistance they need.

Logistics for operation has remained a critical challenge to aid agencies.

In May, fighting between the South Sudan Army (SPLA) and David Yau Yau militia group intensified and forced almost the entire population of Pibor County estimated at 148,000 to flee into the bush.

The MSF clinic in Gumuruk is small but very busy, providing 90 to 100 consultations per day for people who are suffering from diseases that are the direct result of hiding in the bush for weeks or months in the rainy season; pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, malaria, diarrhoea and now malnourished children. But two major concerns remain for the MSF team.

“People come to the village and sit all day waiting for food,” says Carolina Lopez, Emergency Coordinator for MSF in Pibor County. “Most lost their cattle in the recent fighting, and this year’s planting season was plagued with violence, so they are extremely vulnerable. Too many of them turn and walk back through the rain to their temporary shelters in the evening, their bags empty.”

Another concern is that the surgical team deployed to Gumuruk has seen virtually no cases of men wounded in the fighting, despite accounts of the brutality of July’s clashes. “We have treated almost 20 children and women with badly infected wounds, but only one man has come to us for surgery on a bullet wound,” says Martial Ledecq, MSF surgeon in Gumuruk.

“The last major clashes we are aware of in the bush were about a month ago. Anyone with a serious wound is unlikely to have survived this long,” Martial added.

From the accounts of patients who come to the clinic, it seems some are frightened of coming to seek assistance in places where there is a military presence, added the statement.

“My husband does not dare enter the village as he is afraid he will be killed,” says a woman who sought treatment at the clinic and says her husband is also ill. “If we run to the town the soldiers might kill us, and if we run to the bush the enemy tribe might kill us.”

“There are many other people in the bush who are sick,” says a man who carried his daughter to the clinic with a severely infected gunshot wound in her shoulder. In his weak state and with the rains deepening the flood water, a two-hour walk took him two days. “If they cannot come to the clinic soon, they will die,” he warns.

As the rains intensify and the living conditions become ever more precarious, the situation in Pibor County remains critical, MSF warned.

MSF reiterated its plans to expand its efforts through increasing health promotion activities to locate the missing 90,000 people, to assess their condition and to address their most urgent needs despite logistical challenge.

“In the meantime, it is possible to provide aid to the approximately 28,000 people around Gumuruk, and efforts to do so should be increased by all the humanitarian organisations active in Jonglei State,” said the statement.

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