Armed group blocking traffic along main road to Bahr el Ghazal
An armed group has put up blocks on the main road linking Juba to the Bahr el Ghazal states through Terekeka, following a decree by South Sudan’s president to divide Central Equatoria into three.
Sources indicated that the road blocks are manned by heavily armed Mundari youth, but were unable to provide clear details about the exact political identity or demands of the group.
Military sources reported in a series of interviews on Friday and Saturday that thousands of heavily armed Mundari youth and men have blocked the Terekeka-Rumbek road. They are not allowing any traffic flow in either direction.
A source with the military police department stated that movements within Terekeka are restricted. Another source in Terekeka County claimed many truck drivers have been stranded as the traffic along the Juba-Terekeka-Rumbek road has been paralyzed since the evening of 31 December 2015.
It is not clear whether this is an official protest of the Mundari, one of the most powerful and well-armed tribes in Central Equatoria State. President Salva Kiir has tried to divide Central Equatoria by decree, relegating the Mundari to their own district around Terekeka to the north of Juba.
Central Equatoria has been ruled by governors from the Mundari tribe for more than ten years: Clement Wani Konga from 2005 until August 2015, then Juma Ali Malou since Konga’s removal in August. With the new division of the state, the Mundari will no longer participate in the governance of Juba but will govern their own territory only from the town of Terekeka.
Konga, the ousted governor of the state and a former Mundari militia commander, earlier this week criticized President Salva Kiir’s choice of names for the new states, saying that citizens were not consulted and that the phrase ‘Central Equatoria’ should have been kept in each new state name as a way of preserving unity among the tribes.
Reached by phone on Saturday, one of the natives of the Terekeka area downplayed the reports of road blocks, saying it was a normal practice that the youths come together once a year to celebrate Christmas and New Year.
“I am not aware of the blockage but it could be true given the current situation in the country where individuals and communities feel insecure and feel that the only way to ensure their own safety is to take precautionary measures and take control of their areas in order to prevent infiltration of some unclear groups who are armed,” said Clement Maring, former Terekeka county commissioner.
The Terekeka-Rumbek road is one of the main roads linking Central Equatoria with Lakes State and beyond. Closure of the road could have major economic consequences because another main route passing through Western Equatoria State has also been abandoned by many traders due to banditry and clashes between army and local militia sometimes called ‘Arrow Boys’.
Newly appointed governors of the three new Central Equatoria states met in Juba earlier this week vowing to work together and to preserve unity among their communities.
But the creation of the 28 states has also provoked backlash from non-armed opposition parties, which claim the order illegally dissolves the ten constitutionally established states, and it from a number of armed groups in different parts of the country including SPLM-IO, SSDF-Cobra and the Aguelek forces.
Terekeka County authorities could not provide additional information about the reported road blocks.