By James Gatdet Dak
January 26, 2009 (JUBA) – The earlier announced demolitions of squatters targeting mostly residential areas which lands were illegally occupied through grabbing have begun on Monday in the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan’s capital, Juba.
Central Equatoria state governor, Maj. Gen. Clement Wani Konga, last week announced that the authority would begin the demolition exercise to “recover grabbed lands and squatters” in the capital. The state government gave residents of the areas targeted seven days of “grace period,” which expired on January 25, to move out of the areas.
The demolitions targeted squatters in Juba Na Bari, Tongping, Jebel Dinka, some markets, squatters around late Dr. John Garang’s mausoleum and petrol stations constructed in residential areas and near Juba International Airport, among others.
Residents affected generally complaint of what they said was too little time of grace period given to them to evacuate their shops and houses.
A number of bull dozers began on Monday to demolish shops and houses in selected areas amidst deployments of security forces involving the Joint Integrated Units (JIUs), SPLA military police and the Southern Sudan and Central Equatoria Police around the demolition sites.
It is not yet clear what the government is planning to do immediately about those affected and continue to be affected by these demolition operations.
One of the affected shop owners who identified himself as Isaiah Garang Aleu said he got confused and terrified after his shop was demolished. “I am totally left in the middle of confusion by this surprising destruction of my shop. I am being terrified and don’t know where to relocate now,” he lamented.
Illegally constructed shops with corrugated iron sheets, some of which are sometimes used for family accommodations at night, were demolished at Juba Market in the town center.
Hundreds of people whose houses or shops were destroyed after they were moved out in the morning of the first day exercise were standing by looking worried as they watched their houses being demolished by bull dozers.
In what seemed to be chaos, some individual officers of the security forces deployed at the demolition sites turned rude to reporters or journalists. Some journalists complained of being harassed and prevented from taking photos of the sites. The matter was resolved after a senior security officer intervened and had to explain to such officers that the demolition operation was a public concern and necessary to be covered by the media.
Central Equatoria state government earlier argued that the demolitions of such squatters were necessary in accordance with the town’s Master Plan and did not target any group of people.
Many residents affected by the demolitions said they have been ready to legally obtain pieces of land (plots) in Juba but failed many times. According to another shop keeper at Juba Market who identified himself as Bior Manyang and happened to be one of the victims whose shops were demolished, told the press he failed to obtain a plot after applying several times with the state Department of Land Survey.
It is to a large extent difficult to obtain land in Juba through legal procedures because of unsettled jurisdiction over which level of government should be responsible for the capital and to handle its land issues.
Native communities in Juba also argue that “land belongs to the community” (them) as they always quote the CPA for their defense and expect the government or citizens from other states not to temper with it.
Authorities at various levels of government continue to dialogue among themselves and with the local communities in order to reach amicable solution to the land issues in the town that serves as capital to both the Government of Southern Sudan and Central Equatoria state.
The demolition exercise is expected to continue for several days until all the targeted areas are demolished.