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As South Sudan’s independence nears, UN gets ready for next phase of its role

The possessions of some of the thousands of Southern Sudanese waiting to return home in time for independence on 9 July 2011
The possessions of some of the thousands of Southern Sudanese waiting to return home in time for independence on 9 July 2011

As South Sudan’s independence nears, UN gets ready for next phase of its role

Four days before South Sudan becomes independent from the rest of Sudan, the United Nations is preparing for the next phase of its role in the region, both on the ground and at Headquarters in New York with the potential addition of a new Member State.

Top UN officials, led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will attend Saturday’s independence celebrations in Juba, the capital of the new country – born out of a UN-backed peace process that ended the long-running north-south Sudanese civil war.

The mandate of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) – which was created in the wake of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – expires on Saturday and a new UN operation is expected to take the place of the peacekeeping operation.

Ambassador Peter Wittig of Germany, which holds the rotating Security Council presidency this month, told reporters today that Council members are having intense discussions on what form and shape the new mission will take. He said a vote is expected later this week.

Mr. Wittig said the Council will also meet on 13 July, four days after independence, to discuss whether to recommend to the General Assembly that South Sudan becomes the 193rd Member State of the UN. The last country to be admitted as a Member State was Montenegro, in 2006.

In Juba, where authorities have been holding rehearsals for Saturday’s celebrations, David Gressly, UN Regional Coordinator for South Sudan, told reporters that UNMIS had posted many achievements since it started six-and-a-half years ago.

He cited the support given to the north and south so they could implement the CPA, the role of the UN as an intermediary during disputes between the two sides, the disengagement of the two armies, the training of tens of thousands of police officers in South Sudan, and the assistance in the staging of landmark elections and the independence referendum.

“My colleagues’ efforts made a significant contribution to maintaining the overall peace and stability of the past six years, which have brought us to where we are today as the countdown to South Sudan’s independence enters its final phase,” Mr. Gressly said.

But he also noted the continuing violent clashes between various ethnic groups in South Sudan and between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which fought the civil war, and rebel militia groups.

Mr. Gressly’s concerns were echoed by UN humanitarian agencies, which have also warned that “a significant number” of southerners are stranded in the north in difficult conditions, seeking a way home.

Dominik Bartsch, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing in Geneva that between 1.5 and 2 million southerners have been residing in the north. Some 300,000 have already returned.

“Unfortunately, significant numbers of southerners remain stranded en route, notably in Kosti, a way station on the Nile River where 16,000 people are residing in a transit centre originally built for 2,000 people, making conditions at the site were very difficult,” he said.

Mr. Bartsch said a group of some 17,000 southerners was still in Khartoum, many waiting for the transport to the South they have been promised, but which has not been provided due to capacity reasons.

“As a result, many people are now sitting on street corners… after selling their belongings, waiting for transport to arrive,” he added. “Many of these people who were born in Khartoum now find themselves in a situation where they have no assurance about their future status in Sudan. While statelessness is often treated as an issue of legal finesse, this was of direct concern for hundreds of thousands of southerners in the north who must decide whether or not they would travel to the south.”

Mr. Bartsch said UNHCR welcomed the independence of South Sudan, adding that the agency wished to underscores “the south has a number of hotspots, areas where inter-communal violence, ethnic clashes and active military insurgencies are taking place.”

“There are concerns that these hotspots could generate internal displacement and, in the worst case, prompt refugees to cross the border,” he said.

Emilia Casella, a spokesperson for WFP, said the agency welcomed South Sudan’s independence, “as peace is important to maintaining food security.”

Ms. Casella said a barge had departed yesterday from a location south of Khartoum and would head up the Nile River with new replenishments of food, with the aim of arriving in Juba by 12 July.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP), which recently completed food distributions to 900,000 people in the south, has sent a barge full of food from near Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, up the Nile River to Juba.