A senior United Nations official has voiced “significant concern” at conflicts involving at least four separate militia groups in areas of Southern Sudan, which earlier this year voted to secede and become a separate nation.
“While the Government of Southern Sudan has a responsibility to address a security threat within its territory, we urge it to do so in accordance with international humanitarian law,” UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) Regional Coordinator for Southern Sudan David Gressly told a news conference yesterday in Juba, the capital, referring to the violence in the Upper Nile region.
“I am pleased to report that we have gained access to many of those areas in northern Jonglei State where the movement of our personnel and humanitarian agencies had recently been curtailed by these ongoing operations,” he added of the conflicts affecting Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states.
Mr. Gressly said the core issue that has led to the fighting relates to the incomplete process of the re-integration of forces following two decades of civil war between North and South Sudan that killed some 2 million people and drove an estimated 4.5 million others from their homes.
The war ended when the two sides signed a 2005 peace accord which culminated with the South voting for independence in a referendum of self-determination in January.
“The ongoing violence in the greater Upper Nile region continues to be a source of significant concern for the mission,” Mr. Gressly said. “Pockets of conflict involving at least four separate militia groups dot the maps of Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states, and the SPLA (Southern Sudan’s army) has launched offensives aimed at containing those groups.”
Referring to continuing inter-communal violence in Western Equatoria state between Dinka Atuot and Beli tribesmen, he noted that UNMIS military contingents have provided “a strong response” with ongoing patrols to deter violence and support humanitarian relief efforts. UNMIS is also looking actively at mediation support options through the Government and state governments concerned.
Mr. Gressly reported that as of a week ago some 261,000 southerners had moved back to the country’s 10 southern states since the end of October last year, but the flow had decreased significantly in recent weeks, apparently due to the exhaustion of Government funds to assist returnees.
He paid tribute to “one of the good success stories” of UNMIS, “the outstanding de-mining work” by the Mine Action Office, most recently clearing more than 5.6 million square metres of land with their implementing partners.
“Over 18,000 kilometres of road have been surveyed and then cleared of any mines that have been found. So the bulk of all of the roads in Southern Sudan have been cleared. What remains is a great deal of work to clear unexploded ordnance,” he said, calling the clearance of landmines freshly laid by militias in a pattern that can take out convoys of vehicles in northern Jonglei state “the next big challenge.”