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South Sudan Killings Lead to Travel Ban on Main Roads In and Out of Torit

South Sudanese civilians conduct business at the market in Yei, southwest of the capital Juba, Jan. 1, 2017.

Imatong State residents of Magwi County realize the main roads leading in and out of Torit can be dangerous, but they say a recent, state-imposed travel ban for all South Sudan citizens trying to use the Torit-Juba and the Torit-Magwi roads puts an even greater strain on their lives.

The government banned travel on the two roads on Friday following several killings by unknown gunmen over the last few months. Farmers and traders in the agriculture-strong area say the travel ban means they cannot transport perishable food items like potatoes, cassava and maize to markets in Torit and Juba.

On Sunday, unidentified gunmen killed two businessmen near Aru Junction carrying agricultural produce from Magwi to Juba.

The roads linking Juba, Torit, and Magwi, South Sudan
The roads linking Juba, Torit, and Magwi, South Sudan

Gunmen asked to stop

But Magwi resident Lagu Joseph insisted the area has been mostly peaceful since the start of the New Year, and warned traders will stop coming if they cannot travel to and from Torit.

“The businessmen have interest, they want to take goods to Torit but there is no way, and even the civil servants have their salary there in Torit and to bring it here is a problem. That is why we say we cannot see our brothers in Torit there suffering, yet we have food here so this can affect our economy,” Joseph said.

Residents like Joseph are pleading with gunmen to stop attacking travelers, saying, “Magwi is a food basket, but to take it there is difficult so we advise them to leave the road free. We all need peace.”

Residents afraid to travel

Magwi resident Ochola Ogeno says it's not safe to travel area roads.

“Even yesterday there were some vehicles packed with goods, but I think they have diverted their journey to Juba,” Ogeno said.

Magwi County Commissioner Ben Kingston Loduk said although it has been relatively peaceful since December, residents are still too afraid to travel along the Torit-Magwi and Torit-Juba roads.

“Food has been ferried to Juba like sweet potato, maize and many others on a daily basis, but it was only on Sunday that we experienced a problem where one of these traders was killed along with a boda-boda man [motorcycle taxi driver], and their belongings, including money, were all taken,” Loduk said.

Prices starting to rise

Loduk believes life would be much easier for farmers and traders if they could access the Torit-Magwi Road.

“Torit-Magwi [road] has been a problem. That is why it is experiencing food shortages. It would have been a shorter road but because of the insecurity that is why it has become difficult, and as I speak there has been no movement,” Loduk said.

For the past three days, since state officials banned travel along the two roads, no trucks carrying food or other consumer goods have arrived in Torit, and commodity prices continue to rise each day.