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Landmines threaten million of lives in South Sudan: UN

By Julius Gale JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- Some 6 million people in South Sudan live in areas with the presence of landmines and explosive remnants of war, the UN mines agency in the East African country said Saturday.

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in South Sudan said decades of conflict have plagued nearly 90 million square meters of land with explosive hazards.

The agency said an estimated 150 previously unknown hazards are discovered each month, with the full extent of contamination unknown, calling for a countrywide survey.

UNMAS said the existence of explosive hazards prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid and hinder socioeconomic development in the world’s youngest nation.

“In addition to the threats posed to the safety of conflict-affected communities, explosive hazards prevent the safe movement of the population including those who must flee active conflict,” UNMAS said in a statement marking the UN body’s 20th anniversary.

UNMAS said since it started operations in the war-torn country in 2004, it has surveyed, cleared and released 1.184 million square meters of land back to the people of South Sudan.

As the UN body celebrates its 20th anniversary Saturday, it pledged commitment to implements all aspects associated with mitigation of the threats from mines and explosive remnants of war.



Homeless of war-torn South Sudan seek refugee in graveyard

By Julius Gale JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- The cemetery, situated at Konyo Konyo, in the heart of Juba, was meant to be the resting place for residents who’ve passed away in the South Sudanese capital.

However, the graveyard has become a comfort zone to thousands of people who flocked to the capital before or after the east African country gained independence in 2011 and ended up with nowhere to live.

“I used to fear staying with dead people, but because I have nowhere to go, I have become a friend of our departed brothers and sisters for all these years,” 45-year-old Raymondo Modi told Xinhua.

Modi, a father of 10 children, ended up seeking shelter at the burial ground after he was evicted from a rental house on the outskirt of Juba. He had failed to meet the cost.

Originally from Terekeka, an area 50 miles outside Juba, Modi moved his family to the capital hoping that new opportunities would come his way.

To his astonishment, things did not work out and he was left with no option other than seeking refuge in the graveyard.

“I have named this cemetery St. Mary village to help me remember the church I used to pray in, in my village in Terekeka,” Modi said.

Peddling firewood to earn a living, the self-styled leader of about 3,000 residents of the graveyard said he makes between 50 and 100 South Sudanese pounds (between 0.3 and 0.6 U.S. dollars) a day.

With a biting economic crisis, he and his family are forced to take one simple meal a day, Modi said.

“We can’t afford to buy meat and fish because everything is expensive,” Modi said.

Lack of clean water and inadequate medical and education services make it even harder for Modi and his community.

“Life has become more difficult for the community compared to the early days when I settled here,” he said.

Like Modi, many people who moved to Juba from neighboring areas have ended up in the graveyard under similar circumstances.

James Legge, a father of 12, has spent 14 years at the cemetery after retiring from the army. Legge said the government has failed to pay his retirement package and he was no longer working.

South Sudan is engulfed in a civil war that began in December 2013, killing tens of thousands displacing millions of others.

According to aid organizations operating in the African nation, six million people, half the population of South Sudan, is severely food insecure.

Thousands have flocked to the capital from the hinterlands, expecting to find a little relief but have to end up hustling for life.

“This place is bad. There are a lot of diseases. People are dying every day but since I don’t have anywhere to go, I have decided that I die here and join my brothers,” said 24-year-old Maria Poni, who has spent 12 years at the burial ground.

“The government is free to take my children out of this place, but I’m not leaving because this is my home,” said the mother of four.

Poni is but one example of South Sudanese citizens bearing the brunt of a four-year old conflict that has caused one of the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian crises.

“If the government can reason that they have people suffering in Juba, then I’m hopeful that one day I will go home and live a decent live with my children in the village,” said 70-year-old Evelyna Kaku, another graveyard dweller. “But with what is happening now, I don’t think I will ever see home.”


South Sudan army downplays standoff with ex-army chief in Juba

By Julius Gale JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- The South Sudanese army on Sunday downplayed fears that an ongoing standoff between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and bodyguards of former army chief Paul Malong Awan would escalate into violence in Juba.

SPLA Spokesman Lul Ruai Koang told Xinhua by phone that tension emanated after the former military strongman refused to have his bodyguards disarmed.

Juba was tense on Saturday as soldiers blocked major roads including the one leading to the airport and surrounded the home of the ex army chief.

“The government had asked him (Malong) to reduce the platoon under his command to three bodyguards, but he refused to cooperate and the SPLA has deployed around his home to avoid the misunderstanding escalating into violence,” Koang said.

“The government has no intention to make the situation escalate,” he added. “We are in negotiation with General Paul Malong and we hope that the misunderstanding will be addressed soon.”

Before his sacking by President Salva Kiir in May, Malong was widely regarded as kiir’s close ally who mobilized an ethnic militia to fight for the Kiir administration.

Human rights groups have on several occasions accused Malong and his militia of committing atrocities on civilians across the war-torn country.

The former army chief is among three South Sudanese officials sanctioned by the United States in September, and by Canada this month, for allegedly obstructing peace efforts and benefiting from the ongoing civil war.

The east African nation has been embroiled in almost four years of conflict that has taken a devastating toll on the people, and creating one of the fastest growing refugee crises in the world.

A peace deal signed in August 2015 between the rival leaders under United Nations pressure led to the establishment of a transitional unity government, but was shattered by renewed fighting in July 2016.

The UN estimates that about 4 million South Sudanese have been displaced internally and externally. 


South Sudan to pay off outstanding debt to Sudan

By Denis Elamu JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudan on Friday said it will benefit more from its oil sales by paying off outstanding debt with Sudan after the two neighbors agreed to implement the hitherto stalled cooperation agreement.

“The government of South Sudan has accepted to pay off the outstanding arrears which were not paid to the government of Sudan,” said the Minister of Information Michael Makuei.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his Sudan counterpart Omar al-Bashir met on Monday in the Sudanese capital Khartoum and agreed to expedite implementation of the cooperation agreement signed in 2012 that covered security, trade and oil issues.

According to the South Sudan Ministry of Finance, arrears owed to Sudan are estimated at 301.2 million U.S. dollars this fiscal year, of which 171.8 million dollars will be provided through in-kind shipments and 12.1 million dollars in direct payments.

Makuei disclosed that Sudan will also pay off the outstanding pension arrears of South Sudanese civil servants who have not been paid for long service before South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011.

“There are a lot of South Sudanese who were working in Sudan and are on pension and these people have been facing difficulties in receiving their pensions. So it is also agreed a mechanism is worked out they will be paid by Sudanese government,” he revealed.

Makuei also said that customs and migration offices will be established in the 11 crossing points between the two countries by December.


Chairperson of the African Union Commission visits Sudan

ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia (Xinhua) -- The chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, on Sunday kicked off a two-day visit to Sudan, where the chief of the pan-African bloc is expected to hold talks with Sudanese authorities on issues of mutual interest.

The chairperson has been accompanied by AU Commissioner for Social Affairs Amira El-Fadil and other officials, the AU said in a statement on Sunday.

The visit is expected to provide an opportunity to take stock of the peace and reconciliation efforts in the Darfur region, where recent progress made it possible to initiate the drawdown and exit of the AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur, as well as in Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile, the statement said.

Discussions are also expected to focus on the efforts by Sudan and South Sudan to advance the implementation of the cooperation agreements signed in 2012 and the search for a solution to the Abyei issue.

During his stay in Sudan, the chairperson of the AU Commission will address the International University of Africa in Khartoum, with focus on youth, the statement said.



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