20 December 2013

South Sudan: Security Council Condemns Killing of Civilians, Peacekeepers At UN Compound

Photo: Charlton Doki/IPS
Oil storage facilities at Bentiu, Unity State.

The security and humanitarian situations in South Sudan are rapidly deteriorating as a result of the country's political disputes, the Security Council said today, expressing its "grave alarm" and strong condemnation of the ongoing fighting and targeted violence, including the deadly attack on a United Nations base yesterday, which killed at least 20 civilians and two peacekeepers.

The civilians, and two peacekeepers from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), lost their lives when an estimated 2,000 heavily armed youth believed to be of Lour Nuer ethnicity surrounded the UN base in Akobo, and opened fire on the Dinka ethnic civilians seeking refuge inside. After the deadly attack, the assailants fled with arms, ammunition and other supplies.

The deadly fighting escalated in the two-year-old country over the weekend, according to media reports, following what President Salva Kiir's Government has claimed was an attempted coup by soldiers loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, who was dismissed in July.

Following closed-door talks with Assistant Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, Edmund Mulet, Ambassador Gerard Araud of France, which holds the 15-member body's rotating presidency this month, told reporters that the Council called on both President Kiir and Mr. Machar "to demonstrate leadership in bringing a swift and peaceful resolution to this crisis by calling for a cessation of hostilities and immediately commencing a dialogue."

"The members of the Security Council called on all relevant States and organizations to use their influence with South Sudan's political leaders to bring about an end to the violence and initiate reconciliation," he said in a press statement, adding the Council strongly urged parties in South Sudan to cooperate with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Ministerial Group's swift initiative to open a dialogue and mediate between key leaders in the country.

Council members in their statement also condemned reported human rights violations and abuses "by all parties, including armed groups and national security forces" and emphasized that those responsible for any violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law must be held accountable.

They commended the active steps taken by UNMISS to implement its mandate, and other humanitarian agencies that have given refuge in their premises and other forms of assistance to the civilians caught in the fighting. They encouraged UNMISS to continue to implement fully its mandate, in particular the protection of civilians, and called on South Sudanese authorities to provide their full support and assistance in this regard.

After reading the statement Ambassador Araud said a few thousand armed youths are gathering around the UN camp in Bor. "The situation is very, very unstable," he added.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country and UNMISS chief, Hilde Johnson and UN Special Envoy Haile Menkerios are working with the IGAD delegation, counterparts from the African Union and all partners, according to UN spokesperson Farhan Haq, who also expressed the organization's deep concern about the situation elsewhere in Jonglei State, including in Bor town.

The security situation is worsening in a number of areas - of particular concern are the situations in Juba, Jonglei, Unity, Upper Nile and lakes States. He said that UNMISS is engaged in protecting civilians sheltering in its bases and extracting people in vulnerable spots. "Right now, between 35,000 and 40,000 civilians are seeking refuge in UN bases across the country. In Juba, the Mission has strengthened troop presence, including with patrolling," he added.

Earlier today, UNMISS confirmed that at least 20 civilians seeking refuge at its base in Jonglei State were killed in an attack yesterday, in which also two peacekeepers died and a third one is reported to be in stable condition.

"While trying to open negotiations with the assailants, UNMISS peacekeepers stationed inside the compound came under sustained attack," the Mission said releasing details of what happened at the base in Akobo Town.

The bodies of the two peacekeepers, from the Mission's Indian battalion, have been transported today to the capital of Juba. The third soldier from the battalion continues to receive medical aid for a chest wound at the UNMISS facility in Malakal.

Ms. Johnson deplored the attack as "unjustified and unwarranted" stressing that the peacekeepers killed were in Akobo to protect civilians and serve the people of South Sudan: "It is a criminal act for which the responsible must be held accountable. Such attacks will not deter us from continuing to discharge our mandate."

The UN has sent aircraft early this morning to evacuate its remaining personnel from the base along with seven South Sudanese civilians and a dozen staff members from non-governmental organizations.

The base is now under the protection and control of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) who helped to squelch the takeover, after assailants seized weapons, ammunition and other supplies from the UN.

The Mission today stressed that it would support all efforts to bring the perpetrators of "this heinous crime" to justice. It has also said that it is doing everything it can, within its means and in a very fluid situation, to protect civilians, as well as UN and international personnel on the ground.

Meanwhile, operations are underway to evacuate 40 UNMISS peacekeepers from a base in Yuai, also in Jonglei.

In in the Juba area, the UN humanitarian arm announced that it had carried out rapid humanitarian needs assessments in eight locations around the town, focusing on protection of civilians.

Some areas of Juba are deserted, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said, but there are concentrations of displaced people.

The main priorities for the people gathered at the UNMISS bases - believed to number at least 34,000 - are emergency latrines, hygiene, water purification, emergency food, primary health facilities and nutrition screening.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Juba Teaching Hospital had received 440 patients since Sunday, half of them with severe injuries.

Children, who make up half of South Sudan's population, are extremely vulnerable, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) today said, announcing that the UN agency is starting to deliver aid to the children in the UN camps.

Children and women are being prioritized for emergency food supplies, the UN World Food Programme said. The UN agency is working with humanitarian partners and peacekeepers to organize distribution in the coming days.

Some 75 aid workers - a mixture of South Sudanese and international staff - were flown from Bor to Juba yesterday after seeking shelter from the fighting.

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