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DateLine Sunday, 11 May 2008

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Drama in the Nuba mountains

Sri Lankan Police officer excels in Sudan:



The Police Commissioner to the UN Mission, Khartoum Sudan, Kai Vittrup presents a certificate of Commendation to SSP Gunesekera in recognition of his service

Senior Supdt of Police (SSP) Rangith Gunesekera, the Director of the Police Public Relations was sent to the United Nation Mission in Sudan on a special peace keeping assignment.

He was the overall Mission Commander of the Sri Lankan Contingent sent to the United Nations Mission in Sudan with a contingent of 13 Sri Lankan police officers. They reported for duty on 12th October 2007 in Sudan.

After a brief training program in Peace Keeping work SSP Gunesekera was posted to the Kadugli region in connection with peace keeping work, for training the Sudanese police personnel and officers of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement.

The UN Mission Police Chief kai Vittrup had been on the lookout for a senior police officer from Sri Lanka to mediate in the Kadugli regional conflict that claimed thousands of lives over the decades.

The dispute bore resemblance to the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. Although the matter was handled by the Commissioner of Kadugli province, finding a peaceful solution had ended up in a complete failure.

True, there were several local committees appointed to mediate in the conflict. Even the local police deployed since June 2006 had failed to maintain peace and law and order in the province.

When SSP Gunesekera learnt that the UN Chief was looking for a senior officer he volunteered and offered his services to mediate in the dispute. Soon Gunesekera was able to learn a lot about the bloody feud that ravaged in the Nuba mountains where tribesmen from two factions had killed each other over the decades.


Searching for peace between the Lagori and Tesse tribal factions

When Gunesekera visited the Nuba mountains inhabited by the Tesse tribe he found the tribesmen had fled the area.

He was able to gather information from the natives that it was a tactical move to stage an onslaught on Lagori tribes occupying their village. He lost no time in summoning both tribal factions and initiated a dialogue between them to bring about a peaceful solution.

He knew that it was a daunting task that lay ahead of him to initiate a dialogue with two tribal factions who fought for seven decades. But there was glimmer of hope. Gunesekera saw the light at the end of the tunnel. He talked with leaders of both tribes and learnt the root cause of their conflict.

It was a religious problem, a parochial one, neglected for several decades. The Tesse tribesmen had insisted that the Nuba mountain to be named as Abu Salam which the Lagori tribes had opposed vehemently.

The two tribes from Lagori and Tesse clans in the Kadugli province had fought a bloody feud over the ownership of Nuba mountains. Each tribe claimed that it was theirs. The conflict resulted in an annihilation of tribesmen from both factions. Lagori and Tesse villages are located about 20 kilometres from the main town of Kadugli.

The gruesome killings and violence unleashed by tribesmen from both sides were reminiscent of ethnic cleansing in the Kosvo-serbia province a decade ago. The conflict was a horrible one where blood letting went on unabated with little intervention from the Sudanese government.

This was because the Nuba mountains in the Kadugli regions was considered as an autonomous region where tribal chiefs held sway. The chiefs were vested with powers to abjudicate over disputes that arose among them and there was little interference from the Sudanese government.

The areas the tribal chiefs administered were vast swaths of land stretching hundreds of miles. The Lagori tribe resides on one mountain and the Tesse tribe on the corresponding mountain.

Lagori tribesmen allege that Tesse tribesmen had come from other mountains seeking shelter during the civil war that broke out in Sudan in 1969.

However both tribes are now inter related as men from Lagori tribe are married to women from the Tesse tribe. However Lagoriís claim was that the Nubam mountain range belonged to them as the tribesmen had lived there for several generations.

They claimed that their grandfathers invited Thesse tribesmen to settle down in their village. But constant squabbling went on for decades when Thesse tribesmen claimed the territory belonged to them. They insisted the land belonged to their ancestors. SSP Gunesekera soon realised the delicate situation.

The opportunity to settle the dispute was remote as both tribes made claims and counter claims to the contrary. The dispute was mainly cantered over water, right of way, and closing of schools and medical clinics.

According to Gunesekera the feud led to a triple murder on 16th February 2007. Summoning his courage and risking his own personnel safety Gunesekera visited the Nuba mountains for three months and met its tribal leaders.

He relentlessly pursued the peace initiative by offering alternatives to tribesmen and discussing their problems over and again.

In doing this he sought the help of the Nuba Mountain International Association for Development (NMIAD). Meanwhile NMIAD came into the forefront and organised several meetings with members from both tribal factions.

Several political and religious leaders participated in these discussions which ultimately bore fruit. Thereafter they were able to hammer out a peace agreement between the Lagori and Tesse tribal factions.

The signing of the peace agreement consisted of 15 members from both tribes. It was also agreed upon to re-name the village as Abu Salam and sharing of itís resources by both tribes. However the matter is now with the Commissioner of Kadugli who is in the process of preparing a legal document to be forwarded to the Sudanese government.

According to SSP Gunesekera no violent incident was reported

after the peace agreement was formulated. The agreement is hailed as the greatest achievement of South Kordofan state by the Kadugli locality Commissioner and the tribal communities. Gunasekera is thankful to the Police Advisor Lal Chand of India who had been with him throughout the peace process. He is thankful to Colonel Osman Kbashi of Kadugli for providing security during his visits to the villages.

The Police Commissioner to the UN Mission, Khartoum Sudan, Kai Vittrup presented a certificate of Commendation to SSP Gunesekera in recognition of his service. The certificate states the outstanding work exhibiting a high sense of dedication, professionalism, at the risk of his life and efforts made by him to resolve the conflict.

It further states his leadership qualities and self motivation that had contributed a lot in the tremendous success in maintaining law and order in the area and for earning a good name for the police.

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