Lawmaker demands swift release of detained Nyepo Payam Director

Dabe Francis, a lawmaker from Nyepo Payam representing Kajo-Keji County at the Central Equtoria State Transitional Legislative Assembly making his submission during Wednesday assembly siting in Juba (Photo: Philip Buda Ladu)

By Philip Buda Ladu  

A Member of Parliament representing Kajo-Keji at the Central Equatoria State Transitional Legislative Assembly (STLA) is calling for the immediate release of an Acting Payam Director of Nyepo Payam in Kajo-Keji County who is under the detention of the army.

Mr. Bela Benson Azaria, a trained teacher has been volunteering as the acting Nyepo Payam Director since 2019 in absence of an established Payam Administration following the onset of the 2016 war which paralyzed the local government structures in Kajo-Keji County that’s still sketchy.

Bela was taken into custody at the SSPDF main military Baracks in Kajo-Keji County at the aftermath of an incident that happened in Nyepo Payam were unknown gunmen burnt trucks of loggers, killed one SSPDF soldier who fell into their ambush.

According to reports Bela was taken together with the Acting Paramount Chief of Nyepo payam James Modi for questioning on the motive of the attack but the Chief was released later leaving Mr. Bela who the army suspected of involvement in the incident that claimed the life of the soldier.

It should be noted that Mr. Bela interim voluntary administration with help of the army in 2020 managed to arrest some illegal loggers operating in his payam however his working relationship later deteriorated with the army stationed in Kansuk Boma of Nyepo payam due to his outspoken actions against the loggers. 

Dabe Francis, an MP from Nyepo Payam representing Kajo-Keji County at the State Transitional Legislative Assembly in the Wednesday sitting that summoned officials over the chaotic logging business in Kajo-Keji appealed for the immediate release of the Acting Payam Director.

“As we talk now Mr. Speaker the Acting Payam Director of my Payam is not less than a month in the custody of the army, not in the police, Okay! In the custody of the army” Hon. Dabe informed the August House about the detention of Mr. Bela.

The lawmaker criticized the army for acting swift on arresting civilians. “They are quicker and faster in arresting a civilian but they cannot arrest the loggers, see this paradox here,” Dabe exclaimed.

In a response to lawmakers query as to why the law enforcement agencies couldn’t arrest the situation of logging in Kajo-Keji, the Minister of local Government said they lack funds to conduct investigations on the matter on the ground.

This makes Hon. Dabe to question the Minister of Local Government whether even arresting the perpetrators of those who killed innocent blood on the ground also need money which is lacking.

“The poor man unpaid giving his own time and energy for the sake of the community to come back from the diaspora is being convicted and up to now Mr. Speaker he is not being released because he is still under investigation” Dabe echoed.

“And we lack money to investigate and arrest that soldier who is still at large and known it’s well-known where he is. He has killed an innocent blood, well-known and the government said they have no money to do the investigation even the arrest,” he said referring to the related incident where a civilian was shot dead by SSPDF soldier in Kansuk Boma of Nyepo Payam in what appears like a retaliation of the soldier killed by the unknown gunmen.

And the situation is unfolding day by day; as we talk we lost two lives a few days ago.

“I would urge that for us to restore hope and trust on our government we want to see that one, that poor man (Acting Payam Director) is released, much as they cannot arrest the killer, the loggers because they don’t have money we need expeditious release of that poor man from that arrest,” Dabe stressed.

The lawmaker said as government of South Sudan they are Member State of the United Nations, saying “the Universal Deceleration of Human Rights has to be guaranteed for every citizen to have a fair trial before the court of law, it is not a joking matter that we are talking about,” Dabe noted.

He protested to the minister of Local Government that anything to do with lack of money that reason is baseless in regards to arrest of the perpetrators.

Julius Lokonga Eliyuda, another lawmaker from Nyepo Payam representing Kajo-Keji at the State Assembly said these incidents of arrest and detention are continuing in the area instilling fears of people thinking of returning to refugee’s camps.

“There are people who are being arrested, two more people are in detention in Kansuk military detach suspected to have been behind the burning of trucks, to have been behind the killing of the soldier and when they suspect you they go to your house and arrest you” Hon. Lokonga said.

 “Last week I think the same incident this issue of the logging brought also two more deaths two people were beheaded in Kudaji Boma, Kajo-Keji County, one was suspected to be colluding with the loggers, and in Liwolo Payam also one person was killed these are all incidents that happened last week and all these deaths are related to logging that means the people are not happy” he said.

“I am afraid if we don’t resolve this issue it will even continue, and then innocent people keep on being arrested taken to jail, when we are at the verge of implementing the peace agreement we want our people to come back some of our people now express fears they want to go back to the camp because of these actions,” Lokonga emphasized.

Meanwhile, Moro Isaac Jenesio, the Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies who appeared at the floor of parliament on Wednesday promised to follow up to ensure the release of Mr. Bela Benson from the army detention saying he had earlier ordered for his release and didn’t know he was still remanded.

The issue of arrest of Mr. Bela Benson, “Immediately the ministerial committee was dispatched to Kajo-Keji I also went to Kajo-Keji on the mission of Local Government which was the Customary Law Development mission” Moro said.

“I and the ministers who were in Kajo-Keji sat with the army command in Kajo-Keji County and raised the issue of Mr. Bela, the answer we got from the Commander in Kajo-Keji was that they didn’t arrest Mr. Bela for anything but they were keeping him in custody because the army had suspected him to have had an involvement in the killing of one of the SSPDF soldier who was coming from the side of River Kayaya. So Mr. Bela basically had no questions to answer apart from the protection that he was given,” Moro explained.

He also said there was a letter or an order addressed to the Commander in Kajo-Keji by the Chief of Defense Forces (CDF) that the CDF instructed the commander to release Bela if he sees that the charges against Mr. Bela are very minor.

“Also on my return I went to the Baracks we were with some of the MPs who went for the workshop and I instructed the Commander to release Mr. Bela so until now I believe that Bela was released, if he is not released then that’s a good information I will follow with the command in Kajo-Keji County,” Minister Moro added.

The issue that delayed the arrest of loggers is because of the financial situation that the State had been in and the State finds it difficult to fund concurring investigations yet it is at a situation in which money is needed by all the institutions in order to provide the required services.

 “So it was advisable that the Ministry of Local Government and Law Enforcement wait for a conclusive report and act on that report of investigations. It would also be based on directives from the State authority because any directive goes with immediate funding” he said.

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