South Sudan: Westerm Bahr El Ghazal's Balanda Community Accept County Headquarters Transfer

Wau — Elders and different youth groups from South Sudan's Western Bahr el Ghazal state have finally accepted the relocation of Wau County administrative headquarters, the area's commissioner, Elia Kamilo Dimo told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.

The proposed transfer led to protests in December, the response to which led to the death of 20 people in Wau town according to collated figures from government sources. Investigation committees are looking into the incidents in Wau as well as the killing of 26 civilians in the Farajallah area, some 48 miles south west of Wau town.

The proposed move of the council office from the state capital to Bagari, 12 miles south west of Wau town, was initially rejected by members the Balanda ethnic group, who saw it as an attempt to marginalise their community.

The government, however, argues that the move is necessary to provide better services to people in rural areas.

"There is no problem now. Nobody is talking against the transfer anymore. In fact people do not want to hear talks about it. The issue has been put to rest and people are now preparing to receive it. They are actually the ones asking when we will move to the area", Commissioner Dimo said.

Commissioner Dimo said he had visited the area more than four times after the incident and held meetings with different levels of community leaders including different youth groups.

"I have been going to the area. I was there recently. The latest being last Thursday and I am going there again anytime soon. People were happy that I went and they want to see me coming there to stay and work there. They do not want [me] to go as a visitor anymore", he said.

He said he had received a number of letters, mainly from youth asking for forgiveness allegedly for having misunderstood the intention of the government to transfer the headquarters to the area.

"They are coming out as [a] community and as individuals to apologize. We have received a lot of letters from community leaders on behalf of their communities and from individuals. They now need peace and reconciliation. As [a] government we welcomed these moves because the slogan of the state government is peaceful resolution of any difference and reconcile", he said.

South Sudan's cabinet on Friday approved the launch of a national reconciliation and healing process due to begin in April this year, to and resolve and heal the wounds of past and present conflicts dividing the communities in the new Republic, which seceded from Sudan in 2011.

Western Bahr el Ghazal is to ask South Sudan's central government to financially compensate businesses whose properties were damaged by the December protests. Loses estimated at SSP 4bn (about $1m) were reportedly incurred as a result of the protests.

There has been no indication yet that the families of those killed in the protests will be compensated by the government. The government has denied that the police or army were responsible for the deaths of the protestors in Wau despite a video emerging showing armed men in Wau town shooting at apparently unarmed protestors on 9 December.

Derick Alfred Uya, the state Minister of Information said the security investigation committee has not yet completed their findings into the exact number of people killed and wounded.

However, according to reports compiled from government and medical sources, it appears that around 20 protestors died in December, although the former Commissioner of Wau County, John Peter Miskin, who resigned over the proposed transfer, claims the real death toll is higher.

His successor, Commissioner Dimo said he listened to concerns raised during meetings he had with community leaders about lack of basic services and the need for the government to see to that they are provided.

"In my visits to various places including Farajalah, I have held meetings with community leaders and I was confronted with genuine concerns about lack of basic services in the area. They talked about lack of health units in the area. They talked about school[s]. They talked about roads. Issues of security were also raised. They need police unit [s]", Commissioner Dimo said.

The Governor Western Bahr el Ghazal, Rizik Zachariah Hassan, said Friday that December's protests over transfer the headquarters of Wau County was politically instigated by people with "special interests" to destabilize not only his state, but the entire country.

Local politicians and community leaders have been questioned over the incident and three employees of state-run media were detained and questioned. The government denied their the arrest was connected to the Wau County dispute, insisting it was a result of their failure to cover the visit of Salva Kiir to Western Bahr el Ghazal on 24 December.

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