Chief Mabil Gai and Chief Bol Chek don’t remember how many violent encounters the Nuer and their neighbouring community of the Murle have had ever since.
Neither do they know how many people have been killed or wounded, and even the number of children and women abducted in those historical cattle rustling incidences.
All that they could intermittently remember are the continuous the lost of lives.
According reports in 2011, domestic organisations estimated over 5000 killed as a result of violent ethnic conflicts in the former Jonglei by the time South Sudan gained independence.
The most deadly one was in 2009 when 750 lost their lives during a week-long counter-attack between the Lou-Nuer and the Murle.
However, there have been varied reports regarding the death toll.
Given the continuity of animosity between the two communities even after South Sudan Independence, some experts believe the number could be much higher as many factors including inaccessibility to the areas has been a challenge.
Chiefs – Gai and Chek said that in their entire life, they have been burying the dead, and they wonder if the rest of their life will continue the same way.
They were among four Lou- Nuer border chiefs from Akobo who were brought to Juba by Vistas to travel to Boma state to meet their counterparts.
Vistas is an International Non-government organisation that has been supporting peace building and reconciliation between communities in the country. The four chiefs were sent by their community to represent their views.
Like other peacemakers across South Sudan, these traditional leaders are working to reconcile the local communities and put an end to these harmful practices of cattle raiding and revenge attacks.
They have done this tireless in the past, and despite very little recognition for their work, this has not stopped them in the strive for a lasting peace in the region.
Interestingly, three of them speak Murle language. One of them, Mabil Gai, said he was almost killed late last year by Murle youth when they came under an attack.
The Nuer of Akobo and Murle of Lekuangole had lived side by side since time in memorial. The two chiefs come from the localities of Nyandit, Burmeeth, and Geeni in Akobo state.
These villages are among areas situated cross the borderline between Lou-Nuer and Murleland. The communities live on either side of the Pibor River.
“Many years ago, our grandfather, Gog-gok, was allowed by Murle to settle in those villages bordering Murle. This came after Murle married one of our daughters, and we then settled on the land that we now call our home.” chief Gai said.
However, the peaceful coexistence was short-lived after cattle as theft and revenge killing became rampant in the region.
Chiefs Mabil Gai and Bol Chek said both grew up through out in violence, and sometimes took part in cattle raid activities during their youthful time.
“As a young man, I spent most of my time fighting Murle. I have lost good number of my friends during cattle raid, and death become part of my life as I grew older until I became chief.”
Last month, they offered to help deliver food to their neighboring Murle community around Lekuangole, Boma state.
The duo along with others were attacked. Although the two chiefs survived, two assistant chiefs were among those killed.
Last week, amidst high tension, chief Mabil Gai and chief Bol Chek, along other community members took the risk and travelled to Murle Land to talk to their counterparts.
The four chiefs were able to travel to Buma to reconcile with their counterparts in Murle areas.
Chief Gai said the meeting with chiefs from Murle, took place in Likwangole County of Boma state.
He alleged that armed youth from Murle community are terrorizing his people in all corners of Akobo state and beyond.
“They are everywhere in our villages, they have blocked our roads, hindering our movement. Our women can no longer go for firewood in the forest.”
The chiefs said he asked the chiefs from Murle to persuade their youth not to continue with the attack.
“I told them, if you want peace, call back your armed youth roaming in the bush, and in April, we can be able to make peace.”
For his part, Chief Bol Chek said despite the bloodshed that has been there for years, he sees Murle as part of his families, for one thing, the historical marriage ties.
Like many other Nuer living at the common border with Murle, chief Chek said his daughter and some of his nieces are married to Murle.
He said he also travelled to Murleland to ask the Murle to return abducted children.
According the chief, the children were abducted last month when a government car they were travelling on felt into an ambush. Three women were killed during the incident.
“I told them, why abduct 11 children who were travelling on a government car, why take the children and there were no cattle in the car?”
Chief Chek said during the meeting the local authority in Boma state has promised to return the abducted children.
The chiefs said their Murle counterparts have welcomed a peace and reconciliation initiative scheduled for later date.
The border chiefs initiative is supported by USAID – VISTAS programs in South Sudan.
Eye Radio is yet to get comments from Murle leaders.
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