August 21, 2017 (GMN) – The Governor of the Gambella region, Gatluak Tut Khot has urged South Sudanese refugees to return to Pagak, a former rebel stronghold within South Sudan’s Mawut state.
Gatluak, on Saturday, met several South Sudanese Nuer refugees in Kuergeng, an Ethiopian town located about 5 kilometers from Pagak town.
The refugees, South Sudan’s Consul in Gambella noted in a statement, vowed to return home since Maiwut was now liberated.
Since fighting erupted in South Sudan almost four years ago, Pagak has been headquarters of the armed opposition forces, led by former Vice President Riek Machar, currently in exile in South Africa.
The strategic town on South Sudan’s border with Ethiopia fell to government forces three weeks ago, reversing gains that had over the years been made by the armed opposition rebel movement.
Meanwhile, the Governor of Gambella reiterated his full support in facilitating the return of the South Sudanese refugees to Pagak.
“Gambella region will not entertain any rebellion or rebel groups, which are not interested to work for peace,” he stressed, warning that “If anyone is found warmongering in the Ethiopian territory, that person will be subjected to incarceration and deportation to Juba”.
Governor Gatluak said his region was ready to work with his Mawut state counterpart, Bol Ruac Rom to ensure the return of peace.
“Peace and development are the only things the regions of Gambella and Maiwut need at present,” explained Gatluak.
According to the governor, all South Sudanese refugees in the Ethiopia will undergo registration for those intending to go home.
“For those [South Sudanese refugees] unwilling to go home, they will have to be registered as refugees and nothing else,” he further added.
The number of South Sudanese refugees living in Ethiopia as of 31 July 2017 was 382,322, a United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) disclosed on Friday last week.
South Sudan has experienced a civil war since a split between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, escalated in December 2013. Tens of thousands of people have reportedly been killed and over 2 million displaced in less than five years.
A peace deal brokered by the East African regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in August 2015, collapsed when fresh violence broke out in the South Sudanese capital, forcing Machar to flee into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The rebel leader currently lives in South Africa.