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Thousands killed in South Sudan despite ceasefire, UN says

© Photo: AFP. A member of South Sudanese anti-government forces.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-19

Three months of politically fuelled ethnic violence in South Sudan have led to the brutal killing and abuse of thousands of civilians and sparked a government campaign to vilify the United Nations, UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous said on Tuesday.

Ladsous told the UN Security Council that despite a January 23 ceasefire agreement, forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebel soldiers loyal to dismissed former vice president Riek Machar “continue to prioritise the pursuit of military gains over talks towards a comprehensive political settlement”.

Fighting that broke out on December 15 among presidential guards in the capital, Juba, quickly spread across the country and took on ethnic dimensions between the dominant Dinka tribe who support Kiir and the Nuer tribe which is loyal to Machar.

“Political polarisation that has been caused by the conflict now affects the lives of every single person in South Sudan as well the operations of the government and country as a whole,” Ladsous said.

He said preliminary inquiry reports indicate that atrocities and very severe human rights violations were committed by both sides in the conflict, and warned that the longer the fighting goes on “the more chances for further regional intervention will grow”.

FRANCE 24 reporters who visited the northeastern city of Malakel, which changed hands three times between supporters of Kiir and Machar in two months, said the city had been “burned to the ground” .

UN emergency coordinator Ruben Stewart told FRANCE 24 that “elderly and disabled people [in Malakal] seemed to have been left behind if they weren't able to keep up with their families [when they fled the city].”

Unable to deliver aid

Ladsous warned on Tuesday that there will be no “meaningful progress” in talks organised by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development group (IGAD) to resolve the crisis until the opposition’s key demand for the release of four remaining political detainees is resolved. The four went on trial for treason on March 11.

Ladsous urged the Security Council to condemn the campaign against the UN peacekeeping mission – which is sheltering 75,000 of approximately 800,000 people displaced by the ongoing violence – and to demand that Kiir condemn it and instruct government officials and his party to stop it.

The anti-UN campaign has brought the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid “almost to a standstill,” which is extremely critical as the rainy season will begin soon, he said.

“The security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan will continue to deteriorate until the parties fully engage in the political talks, respect the cessation of hostilities and allow freedom of movement for the United Nations and its partners,” he said.

UN staff harrassed

Ladsous said the negative campaign against the UN peacekeeping mission known as UNMISS by some local and national officials has included public demonstrations, media articles, and harassment of UN personnel “including to the point of putting their lives in danger”.

A confidential note from the peacekeeping department to Security Council members, obtained by AP, lists dozens of violations of the UN’s status of forces agreement with South Sudan’s government. They include government forces restricting the movements of UNMISS patrols and helicopter operations, blocking contractors and supplies, assaulting an UNMISS national staff member, and harassing and detaining UN staff.

In response, Ladsous said, the UN needs to consider reducing its staff and limiting its activities “to the absolute minimum related to protection, human rights monitoring and support to humanitarian assistance”. South Sudan’s UN ambassador, Francis Deng, attributed the “negative outcry” against the UN mission known as UNMISS “to the trauma, frustrations, pain and anger caused by the devastating violence that broke out on December 15”.

Luxembourg’s UN ambassador, Sylvie Lucas, told reporters after closed council consultations that violations of the status of forces agreement and harassment of UN personnel “are unacceptable and agreed on the need to send a strong message”.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recommended that the council increase UNMISS troop numbers for a year to levels temporarily agreed to in December – 12,500 troops – and to re-prioritise its mandate to focus on protecting civilians, delivering aid and monitoring human rights. Lucas said “questions were raised about the appropriateness of a new mandate for UNMISS”.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Date created : 2014-03-19

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