November 1, 2013 (SSNA) — The World Veterans Federation’s delegation on a three day official visit to South Sudan with the view to share its vast experience on war veterans’ affairs met relevant South Sudanese government officials in the ministry of Defense and Veteran Affairs, and the DDR Commission. The main aim of the visit is to conduct needs assessment and share experiences with South Sudanese veterans of the longest African war in the hope that they become part of the World Veterans Federation family. WVF also deals with issues pertinent to war victims such as widows, orphans and wounded currently served under the care of an independent government commission in the national government, RSS.
Dan-Viggo Bertgtun, Vice President of the WVF who is also the body’s Ambassador to the United Nations and head of a three-man delegation that included Terje Engevik and Tut Gatwech Garang said failure to take care of war veterans and to equally recognize their past roles and achievements can endanger the peace and security which are the prerequisite to any country’s economic development. Bertgtun pointed that this group, if frustrated, can turn to alcohol and drugs abuses eminently graduating into criminal gangs in order to make ends meet. Bertgtun further commented that war veterans and victims have immensely suffered the horrors of war and should get rehabilitated back to normal life. Hence, they need utmost care so that they don’t feel out of place, ignored and neglected in a country they and their relatives sacrificially contributed to its existence.
Such care and recognition ought to come from government by giving them necessary pensions and life skills trainings while decorating them with medals so that they feel valued and loved by their people. Those who refuse to stay obedient despite generous help extended to them can be stripped off their pensions as a disciplinary measure, he advised. From this brief visit, Bertgtun realized that South Sudanese war veterans are somewhat isolated and should therefore seek WVF membership since such would bring them closer and learn from global experiences.
On 23rd October, 2013 under guided tour of duty by Veterans Affairs’ Director-General, Aloisio Ojetuk—also a retired Major General, the WVF delegation paid its first courtesy call to the office of the retired General Joseph Lagu Yanga, the former Anya-Nya One’s leader, President of High Executive Council, Vice President of the Republic of the Sudan, current Presidential Advisor and most senior war veteran in South Sudan. Lagu expressed gratitude to the Norwegian delegation—a country that stood firm with South Sudanese during good and bad times—but mostly bad times. He remembered that the first journalist to have interviewed him in the Anya-Nya bush war was in fact a Norwegian trying to make a case for us to be heard in the global community.
He delved into background of Anya-Nya war that started its military operations against the Sudan government on 19th September 1963. Anya-Nya as its official objective wanted Sudan to be a federation since it was a large country whose people are culturally, racially and religiously diverse to be able to manage their own affairs. The Anya-Nya, which means deadly poison or venom in Madi language, waged war that went on till February 28th 1972 through Addis Ababa Peace Settlement brokered between it and Jaafar Mohammed Nimiery’s regime by World and All African Council of Churches. The agreement made Southern Sudan autonomous within a united Sudan. But with an unfortunate stoke of a pen, Nimiery abrogated that agreement in 1983 and the result erupted into an annihilative civil war that went on until January 9th 2005 when the two warring parties agreed to sign an internationally brokered peace agreement, called the CPA which gave the region more stronger autonomy than it was in 1972. This same CPA gave people of South Sudan an ultimate choice to decide whether to remain in a united Sudan or go separate in a referendum on January 9th 2011.
On the same morning of 23rd October, the delegation met Hon. Kuol Manyang Juuk, Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs in presence of his under Secretary, General Bior Ajang Duot and Major General Ajetuk himself. Kuol lamented about the long war that caused immense loss in both manpower and property. Some of war veterans know only war without life saving skills that could help them outside the army, he mournfully narrated. Some of them are traumatized and therefore need a lot of counseling as a necessity. If war veterans are not taken care of, their sorry state can demoralize those still in active service. Currently some of our war veterans and victims engage in serious alcohol and drug abuses as well as crimes of harassment of civil population out of frustration. To me, Kuol asserted, the best help for war veterans and victims is to rehabilitate them back to life they know better such as mechanized farming and cattle keeping for commercial purposes than give them money they can misuse on alcohol in urban centers. He clarified that war victims are not part of his ministry but under widows, orphans and wounded Commission headed by Deng Dau Deng who is best placed to talk about their dire conditions.
An hour later in the same building, the delegation met with The army Chief of Staff, General James Hoth Mai, who said he has been the army chief for four and half years since 2009. He spoke of South Sudan good’s relationship with Norway since the time of war. Norwegians during the war were the only aid workers who remained with us in the war field when all other foreign relief workers could flee Sudan Air force bombardments, he commended. General Hoth said the idea of giving war veterans the necessary assistance is very essential because failure to do so will make them dangerous to peace and security we are struggling to establish. Not necessarily giving them money but enrolling them in development projects that guarantee them income. Since it is unwise to give them cash that they will easily misuse and return again to the government complaining. For teaching somebody how to fish is the best and permanent option that would bridge the gap and could further help us since we have not yet arranged pension package for the would be demobilized that are earmarked as eighty thousands servicemen and women from the SPLA.
After Chief of General staff meeting, Director General for Veteran Affairs and contact person guiding the delegates on tour of duty, Aloisio Ajetuk ushered the delegation to a meeting in his office where he repeated his heart – renting statement before defense minister Kuol. Beaming with a sense of relief while introducing delegates to him, he declared having found true partners from the visiting World Veterans Federation delegates. Ajetuk explained that NGOs don’t relate with his office very well because they see them as ill fit in their humanitarian objectives due to their military nature. He briefly went on to explain his Directorate’s mandate.
In 2008 President General Salva Kiir Mayardit established by decree The War Veteran Association that was later dissolved and transformed into an independent commission. Since the Commission couldn’t meet the expectation, it was dissolved again into a Directorate further attached to Defense Ministry. In the chain of command I’ m answerable to Undersecretary of the ministry who reports my work to the Minister, he said.
In definition, Veterans Affairs deals with demobilized individual soldiers from Anya – Nya and SPLA including on and off members demobilized from South Sudan armed groups. About 36,000 are currently on pay role awaiting re-integration to civilian life. There are branches of war veterans Affairs throughout the ten States. As a special recognition for their contribution in the struggle, we declare 18th of August 1955—in memory of Torit mutiny when the first bullet was shot against Khartoum based – government, a war veterans day. However, challenge mounts on the ministry for it is extremely difficult to sustain them in the long run if their purposed pension doesn’t come sooner than later.
One of the Directorate’s plans was to put them in a mechanized farming that requires sophisticated equipment such as backhoe tractors and many more. Also they need social psycho counseling that demands a good number of Doctors to deal with those who may fall victim of trauma. I once organized stakeholders’ conference towards that project but was poorly attended by NGOs and even those who showed up turned down any help since they see war veterans as soldiers who don’t fit in their normal program, said Ajetuk.
In the following morning of 24th of October, the delegation met with William Deng Deng, head of the national Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration Commission, DDR and had a hearty interaction on war veterans and victims of South Sudan. After a warm welcome, Deng narrated the difficult path the Commission has travelled since its formation back in 2006. DDR came about as a result of CPA after bitter struggle with old Sudan. And in that struggle he recognized the ultraistic contribution that the Kingdom of Norway has extended to people of South Sudan from the negotiation up to the implementation of peace agreement; and through the post independence period and current peace building, he emphasized. However, he said DDR’s activities having been overshadowed by difficult implementation of CPA and tedious post independence matters. The main goal of DDR is to work with the army and help it identify those to be demobilized and integrated back into society based on age, physical disability and voluntary will. Those to be demobilized can be given life skills training although it is somehow uneasy since most of our servicemen and women are not literate.
The future plan of the commission is to ensure all veterans including our sitting President, when retires, can get a good send home package with dignity in terms of pension, investments, school for themselves and their children as well as health care and special recognition by issuing them with modals. Such Gesture shall make them feel appreciated and loved by the state and general society that they once served diligently while still strong. Furthermore, they can be built homes as it happens elsewhere. Involving them on independence days’ parades in special uniforms and barges pinned to their lapses as they move about in their daily business can be an additional spice, he concluded.
He warned of the fact that if demobilization and re-integration of veterans and victims of war is mishandled, it can lead them to turn to crimes and renewed armed rebellions as it happened to former Anya-Nya one fighters in 1972 and SELEKA rebels who recently fell out with the Central African Republic government under Francois Bozize and took over the government early this year.
The reported media coverage is compiled by MatMedia, Juba.
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