May 3, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudanese officials in the rebel controlled counties [districts) in Jonglei and Upper Nile states sign a cooperation agreement with their neighbouring Ethiopian woredas [districts] in promotion of cohesion between the cross-border communities.
Signed in Tiergol woreda [district] in Gambella region of Ethiopia early this week, the cooperation agreement which is sanctioned by the Gambella Regional Justice Bureau, was inked by cross-border district officials, chiefs, traditional leaders and representatives of religious leaders, women and youth groups from the rebel held bordering counties in Jonglei and Upper Nile states and the districts of Gambella region in Ethiopia.
Officials from both sides told Sudan Tribune on Sunday that the deal aimed to promote harmony between the Ethiopian and South Sudanese neighbouring communities and to control movement of firearms across their common borders as well as clear feeder roads connecting their neighbouring districts.
The deal reiterated to continue to grant free cross-border movement of people, particularly the displaced persons or refugees from South Sudan into Ethiopia and share fishing and grazing lands as well as work in collaboration with their respective administrations.
The agreement further addressed other social matters including the need to harmonize or reduce dowry payment in case of cross-border intermarriages, saying this would reduce marriage-induced violence and cattle raiding.
Currently, most of the South Sudan’s Jonglei and Upper Nile states’ bordering counties with Ethiopia are under the control of the opposition forces led by former vice-president, Riek Machar.
Also the districts on the side of Ethiopia and South Sudan are predominantly inhabited by the Nuer communities in the two countries, with the Ethiopian Nuer inhabiting four counties in Gambella region in Ethiopia.
The two communities also share history, culture and language although they are separated by the international borders. Representatives from the neighbouring Anyuak community also signed the cooperation agreement.
Ethiopian Tiergol commissioner, Simon Dol Kek, hailed the agreement, saying the deal would promote cohesion and ease some of the concerns arising from the influx of refugees from South Sudan, who are being resettled in many different refugee camps within Gambella region, including Tharpam at Itang and Panyidu.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ethiopia this week announced that the number of refugees, mainly from the Nuer ethnic group, has reached 200,000, in Ethiopia, with thousands of new arrivals registered every month.
The deal further stressed the need to clear the feeder roads on both sides of the border to ease movement and trade. Ethiopian government has already constructed a tarmacked road up to it border with Pagak, a border town in Upper Nile state, which the rebels have renamed as Adar state.
South Sudanese county officials said they wanted to initiate and promote peace and harmony between the bordering communities with the sisterly Ethiopia, which they hailed for its historical support to South Sudan which lead to its independence and for leading a peace process to end the war in the young country.