26 August 2017

South Sudan: President Kiir Blocks Protection Force From Juba Airport

A dispute has arisen between South Sudan and the Regional Protection Force at the Juba International Airport.

President Salva Kiir's administration appears to be uncomfortable with the deployment of the mission and its mandate as per the UN Security Council Resolution 2304 of August 12, 2016. The force is made up of troops from Rwanda, Nepal and Bangladesh.

The mission says it is mandated to protect civilians, secure humanitarian aid and protect key installations in Juba - including the airport. However, the government says allowing foreigners to control the country's airport is tantamount to surrendering its sovereignty.

The Regional Protection Force has since been forced out of the airport, and on August 23, President Kiir ordered security organs not to co-operate with the force's command, because their actions could undermine the nation's sovereignty.

Sources within the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) - under whose command the RPF is operating -- say that Juba is trying to amend the Security Council resolution without going through political negotiations at the UN.

Resolution 2304 mandated the regional force to use all necessary means to actively patrol and facilitate safe and free movement in and out of Juba, including protecting main highways to the city.

The force is also mandated to protect the airport to ensure it remains operational, protect key facilities in Juba essential to the well-being of the people, and promptly and effectively engage anyone found to be planning attacks against UN protected civilian sites and those working there.

South Sudan deputy ambassador to Kenya, Jimmy Deng, told The EastAfrican that the force is trying to outstep its mandate by seeking to control the airport. He said the force should instead be securing the Juba-Nimule, Juba-Yei and Juba-Bor roads where the rebels are attacking civilians and disrupting the transportation of essential goods.

"Ever since the war broke out in 2013, the airport has always remained secure for any traveller. There is no country in the world where foreigners control the airport," said Mr Deng.

The Regional Protection Force has since retreated to the Bilpam military camp near the airport after its command and that of UNMISS held meetings with President Kiir early last the week.

A Rwandan contingent of about 1,000 troops joined the Nepalese High Readiness company in early August and more than 100 Bangladeshi engineers are already in the mission area, as part of the phased out deployment. The Ethiopian contingent - which will make up the bulk of the force - is getting ready for deployment.

Originally, the Regional Protection Force was to have troops from Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Sudan.

However, Sudan and Uganda voluntarily stayed out due to their close links with the war, while Kenya withdrew its troops in December last year after the UNMISS commander was dismissed.

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