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Torit - 11 May 2023

Governor Lobong blames NGO for death of Lafon peace delegates

Governor Louis Lobong. (File photo)
Governor Louis Lobong. (File photo)

The governor of Eastern Equatoria State has faulted the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) for the death of 14 members of a peace delegation in Lafon County, saying the NGO did not consult him about their activity.

On 29 April, armed men placed logs on the road to stop two humanitarian (NCA) vehicles carrying participants from a peace dialogue in Lafon County and shot four occupants dead. The assailants pursued four other passengers who fled to the bush and gunned them down too.

The meeting was organized under the auspices of the state peacebuilding ministry and the local authorities in Lafon County to create peace between the belligerent communities of the Locharok and Arilo (Lohitojo) in Imehejek and was supported by NCA.

On 3 May, six people were killed in Lacharok village in Lafon and authorities attributed it to revenge.

However, Governor Lobong while meeting representatives from NCA on Tuesday in Torit, said he was unaware of the peace meeting.

“I am concerned and summoned some staff from NCA because I did not know what they are reporting. So, they told me they were carrying peace dialogue, and that incident took us by surprise,” he said. “Me as the head of the state, the head of peace and reconciliation, the head of security, the head of administration. And if we mention humanitarian, I have no idea what was going on. The intention was good to reconcile the communities who had fought but in peace and reconciliation people had to be informed and we had to prepare something called security precautions.”

“There were very clear signs that these people were not ready for peace and reconciliation and they mentioned it but the organizers insisted,” Lobong added.

The governor said the advance team that was preparing for the meeting went to the venue and found armed men and recommend that the dialogue be postponed.

“The very people insisted that they could not change the venue,” he said.  “It was not procedural and people were killed and their eyes removed, very brutal killing.”

Governor Lobong however said his administration will ensure that the killers are held accountable.

For her part, the Eastern Equatoria State minister of culture, youth and sports, Margret Idwa Okuye, lauded NCA but urged them to cooperate with line ministries regarding activities.

“For most of our partners, the procedures of supporting whoever is going to do the work down on the ground is always overlapping. You do the project in Juba and as soon as it is ready, people just come and bypass the state and as a result, this is what we have experienced,” she said. “The concerned ministry must be made aware so I am just raising this concern because you still have some areas of operation within the state as reference for the future.”

Meanwhile, the state’s peacebuilding minister, Marko Lokidor Lochapio, admitted that he was informed and that an initial meeting happened conducted before the final dialogue on the ground.

“There was shifting and changing of the venue instantly without taking precautions in terms of security but they even conducted the peace dialogue very successfully and the closing was good,” he said. “It (killings) only happened when the delegates were taken back to their places.  We do not understand what is behind it. The government will continue, through the security apparatus, to trace the genesis of the problem.”

NCA Country Director Bent Simonsen said he was saddened by the killings but that they will continue to work for peace.

“I am back in Torit to visit our field office to introduce a new head of operation and also to meet the governor and the ministers and bring condolences for what happened on 29 April. It is a sad incident,” he said. “As NCA, we will always be committed to working with the ministries for peace. We have been in Eastern Equatoria and South Sudan for more than 50 years and we are committed to strongly working for peace together with the government.”