BOR, SOUTH SUDAN— A squad of 29 specialist police officers, known as the Livestock Patrol Unit (LPU), graduated Thursday in the capital of Jonglei state after two months of training in how to respond to cattle raids.
The new graduates, the second class to complete the training since the program was set up in 2012 with funding from the U.S. State Department and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), brings the total number of trained LPU officers in Jonglei to 71.
“Today’s graduates join the officers who graduated in December 2012," said UNDP Deputy Director Amanda Serumaga.
"This LPU was established to address issues of the people of Jonglei State. Already the LPU has been working to reduce violence in the community and we hope you will the lead the way for future LPUs, not just in Jonglei, but across South Sudan," she said.
Residents in the areas where the LPU has deployed have said they have successfully interceded after cattle raids and returned the stolen livestock to their owners.
Todd David Robinson, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said the LPUs will be most effective if they have the trust of the people they serve.
"Because they are ethnically and geographically diverse and they come from the community, they will hopefully... earn the trust of the people and by doing so, help people live better lives," he said.
Gai Manyang, the state deputy police commissioner, said Jonglei state needs more, better funded and equipped LPUs if the force is to be effective.
“They are competent but they are small in number," Manyang said.
"They have a lot of challenges like mobility and communication. This is a challenge. The area is very vast, poor roads and all these things."
Meanwhile, in Unity State's Payinjiar County, authorities returned scores of cows raided from neighboring Yirol East County to their owners, and arrested 14 suspected cattle rustlers.
Officials in Unity State have blamed cattle raids on youths looking to get cows to pay dowries for marriages. Dowries can run into the hundreds of cows in the area.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan organized a teleconference last week among local officials to encourage improved communication and discuss ways to reduce raids.
Jonglei officials have called on donor agencies to give more support to the LPU program to try to beat rampant cattle rustling in the state.
In January this year, more than 100 people, mainly women and children, were killed in Jonglei in one of the most deadly cattle raids in South Sudan in years.
In Unity State earlier this month, eight women and a child were abducted in a cattle raid. They were later released, but their abduction sparked a reprisal attack in which 31 people were killed.
(Bonifacio Taban contributed to this article.)