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BENTIU - 20 Nov 2023

Bentiu IDPs demand security reform before the elections

An aerial view of the Bentui Protection of Civilians site. (UN photo)
An aerial view of the Bentui Protection of Civilians site. (UN photo)

A cross-section of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Unity State’s Bentiu town have faulted the signatories to the 2018 revitalized peace agreement for reneging on implementing security reforms and said they should be done before the elections slated for December 2024.

They also demand the prioritization of humanitarian needs, the reintegration of IDPs, and the return of refugees.

The IDPs who live in the UN-run Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Bentiu put the state government on notice and threatened to boycott the general elections, citing a lack of security reforms.

Some of the IDPs rejected what they referred to as premature talk of elections, saying implementation of the security arrangements stipulated in the agreement should be prioritized as it will give South Sudanese hope to go for elections.

James Gatdet Gatjuol, a member of the youth forum, said the IDPs' decision to boycott the election will remain on the table until the government implements the security arrangements.

“The problem that will prevent people from going for the elections is insecurity,” he said, adding, “The (security) reforms need to be implemented now so that people can reach the time of elections when there is guaranteed security. If there is no good security for the election, then it will fail.”

Many citizens are doubting if the country is ready for elections given the slow pace of implementation of the agreement.

Tom Ruai Bandeng expressed similar views, stating that it is good to hold elections at the end of the transitional period but cautioned that the government should first resettle and reintegrate IDPs and refugees.

“I believe this election will not be successful. It looks like it will happen but nothing is showing that people will go for elections,” he said. “The election demands that citizens elect leaders according to their choices and many people are fed up with the transitional leadership.”

Meanwhile, another camp resident, Nyaup Mut Riek, said the people should not boycott the elections because she believes they will enable South Sudanese to make wise choices to end conflict and move the country forward.

“We have fear for the general elections in 2024 because the security arrangements have not been implemented since 2020,” she said. “However, I agree with some of the people who want to vote so that there is peace. I am willing to vote to return to my original place.”

The displaced people in Bentiu also said they need humanitarian aid, especially food aid, and voiced concerns that the World Food Programme (WFP) stopped food distribution in the Bentiu IDP camp in July 2023. The WFP however says it has run out of money to support 7.8 million people in South Sudan due to a global funding crisis.

For her part, Naui Lino Michael, a recent returnee from Sudan and a camp resident, said she is not keen on elections until security reforms are carried out.

“People are dying and then we are being told to go for elections. They should first bring us food and ensure that there is proper security in place before we can go and vote. How can you hold free and fair elections without good security?” she asked. “There is no one who can run for office while dying of hunger.”

The Roadmap that extended the Transitional Period stipulates that elections will be held in December 2024.