Soldiers still occupying villages along Juba-Yei road: Bishop

Bishop Santo Laku Pio, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Juba, speaking to the faithful in Yei on Sunday, May 21, 2023. (Radio Tamazuj)

Government soldiers are still occupying villages and farmlands belonging to civilians who fled to refugee camps in neighbouring countries, a Catholic bishop said.

Bishop Santo Laku Pio, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Juba, said this in Yei town, where he joined the faithful to celebrate the first anniversary of the second bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Yei, Bishop Alex Lodiong.

Speaking to the media in Yei on Sunday, Bishop Santo said areas of Limbe, Gimunu and Koya-Kenyi along the Juba-Yei road are still occupied by the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) soldiers.

The bishop said the occupation of villages and farmlands discourages refugees from returning to their areas. He called on the government to evict those soldiers from villages they currently occupy along the Juba-Yei road to allow the refugees to return home.

‘’Peace dividends are not yet concrete on the ground. We are also here to pray for total peace so that the people of Yei can return. Many of our people are still in the refugee camps because of the presence of the guns,” he said.

“I also see soldiers occupying villages, gardens of people, and places that people deem important. So my message is to our government that these soldiers should immediately be removed from the villages of these people so that our people can come back to reconstruct their lives and villages so that they can set themselves once again,” he added.

Dara Felix, a civil society activist in Yei, said the existence of the military in rural areas is becoming a challenge to the population. The activist called on the military headquarters to prioritise returning those soldiers to their barracks.

‘’Since there is relative calm, it is important that some of our SSPDF soldiers should not be left in the bushes like that. They should be brought back to town, to their barracks and somehow allow people to move freely, especially at checkpoints,” he said.

“Those forces were deployed there because of insecurity, but now to build confidence and allow people to move freely without any intimidation, they should be removed from there,” he added.

Reacting to the Bishop’s remarks, the Director of Civil-Military Relations in Greater Yei, Lt. Col. Michael Machar, said the deployment of military forces to the outskirts of the town was a strategic plan of the national government to encounter insurgencies.

Source: Radio Tamazuj

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