JUBA , SOUTH SUDAN - A member of the British House of Lords says she witnessed the immediate aftermath of a massacre in the disputed Abyei region last week, and will raise the issue of the U.N. peacekeeping force there in the British parliament.
Caroline Cox, formally known as the Baroness Cox of Queensbury, said the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNIFSA) did not protect the people of Abyei when armed men killed dozens of civilians in the village of Kolom last week.
The oil-producing Abyei region sits on the border between Sudan and South Sudan and is claimed by both countries.
Cox, who is CEO of an organization called Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, gathered with Abyei lawyers, officials and citizens in Juba, South Sudan on Monday to mourn the victims in the Kolom attack. More than 30 people were killed, according to Abyei’s chief administrator, Kuol Alor Kuol, who accused armed Misseriya nomads of attacking the mainly Dinka village.
“We were there in the tragic time with the burning homes, the burning bodies and their homes, the mass graves already and the burning huts, and I think perhaps one of the worst things is that so many children were abducted into slavery and that is terrible for their families,” Cox told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
She said it is the responsibility of officials like herself to “tell the story and to try and get more help and justice for the people of Abyei.”
Deng Arok Kuol, a lawmaker in South Sudan’s legislative assembly and co-chair of the Abyei oversight committee, said the presence of Cox in Abyei will help verify that a massacre took place.
“We are supposed to have a joint administration, to which we said, no; it will not save us anything, you know this protection. Our feeling is that UNIFSA has not lived up to its mandate because in 2013 while they were in protection by then, they allowed them to be killed; they were on the ground for six hours, until the paramount chief was killed. Again a number of incidents have happened and according to the report of UNIFSA 2019, about 43 from June up to December have been killed in Abyei area. Now we have another incident of genocide in Kolom.”
The chairman of the Abyei lawyers network, Mony Luak Alor Kuol, says the people of Abyei are asking for solutions to end what he calls ‘’continuous massacres.’’ He says the presence of the Baroness Cox in Abyei will help verify the tragedy that took place in Kolom.
“Because the Baroness Cox was in Abyei when the incident happened and she had seen every bit of it and she lived it and knowing her role and knowing at least the importance of the country she comes from, we thought it is important for us to interact with her,” Kuol told South Sudan in Focus.
Kuol says the people of Abyei are asking for solutions to the unending attacks.
“Baroness Cox herself knew the weaknesses of UNIFSA and she said to the people that she witnessed how UNIFSA let the people down, how UNIFSA failed to protect the massacre that happened and our people have and our people have been pointing this out all the time. UNIFSA is a one-country mission and one country mission is subjected sometimes to temptations and compromise, so exactly we saw this is what had exactly happened,” Kuol told South Sudan in Focus.
Dier Tong, president of the Abyei community in Juba, said after a string of deadly attacks in Abyei region, the international community must act.
“We think that unless proper measures are taken, this suffering will continue...Many villages were affected before and therefore the focus of our people is to mourn our death but we want their souls not just to go cheap. We want their souls to be rewarded with the final resolution on the issue of Abyei,” Tong said.
South Sudan’s minister of health, gender child and social gender in Abyei, Nyanwut Mayen Kuol Deng, said the people there need humanitarian assistance.
“We have really been displaced from the area of Kolom and some came inside Abyei. They don’t have homes; they have just been gathered in one of the places inside Abyei and some are suffering in the hospital,” Deng said.
Under the UNIFSA mandate, revised in November 2019, the U.N. Security Council authorized it to “protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence; and protect the area from incursions by unauthorized elements and ensure security.”