The top United Nations envoy in South Sudan today urged an immediate end to the cycle of ethnic violence in the newly independent nation, and called on the Government to hold the perpetrators to account and to deploy more forces to key areas to avert further bloodshed.
“The ongoing security crisis in Jonglei state is a test for all of us,” Hilde Johnson, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), told a press conference in the capital, Juba.
“All concerned should redouble their efforts to put an immediate end to the cycle of violence, which is putting thousands of lives at risk and threatening the stability of the whole area,” she added.
Deadly clashes between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities in recent weeks have displaced tens of thousands of civilians and led to UN agencies launching a major humanitarian operation to assist those in need.
Ms. Johnson noted that UNMISS has in recent months consistently deployed its limited resources to reinforce efforts to prevent and mitigate conflict in Jonglei state, including to the Lou Nuer, Dinka and Murle communities.
“However, more Government forces are urgently needed in key locations, as well as to patrol in the buffer zones between the communities to de-escalate tensions between the communities and avert further violence,” she stated. “I urge the Government to deploy additional forces and further strengthen its forces in the key areas to stop further violence.”
She voiced deep concern about hate messages delivered by some individuals and groups, which she said could incite systematic ethnic violence. “Any statements that could incite ethnically based violence are totally unacceptable.
“I urge the leaders of all communities at all levels in Jonglei state, and nationally, to call for a halt to any such rhetoric. I also call on the Government to bring the full force of the law to bear against those responsible for inciting violence,” Ms. Johnson stated.
“UNMISS strongly condemns the use of violence by communities and urges their political, traditional and youth leaders to do their utmost to end killings and confrontations in an area that has suffered far too many casualties,” she added.
UN peacekeepers have been deployed to the area in recent weeks to support the efforts of Government forces to restore peace and security, and daily air and land patrols have been stepped up to deter further attacks. However, the Mission has a shortfall of operational helicopters, seriously affecting its ability to carry out its mandate.
Ms. Johnson pointed out that the Mission took “decisive” measures, including committing around half of its combat-ready personnel to the heavily-populated areas of Pibor and Likuongole.
“We moved our forces to where civilians were under greatest threat. These actions combined with the presence of Government troops helped save many lives,” she said.
The Mission’s preliminary findings have confirmed evidence of a number of civilians killed and injured, however, the findings so far do not provide the basis for the scale of casualties claimed by some media, Ms. Johnson stated.
“We urge leaders and the public to avoid jumping to conclusions based on unverified human rights violations,” she said, adding that UNMISS commended the Government’s decision to conduct an investigation into the events and the numbers and who may have been responsible.
Retaliatory violence has continued, with a number of attacks in the past few days on Lou Nuer and Dinka communities, she reported.
“The cycle of violence in Jonglei has caused huge suffering to all the people in the area. It has to end,” stated Ms. Johnson.
UNMISS remained very concerned about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation and reiterated its call on the international community to respond generously and rapidly to humanitarian needs.
The UN humanitarian community has launched one of the most complex and expensive emergency operations in South Sudan, aimed at assisting 60,000 people in the affected area. UNMISS will continue to assist in delivering vital supplies, particularly in remote areas where some of the most vulnerable people are located.
The Special Representative also noted that South Sudan is moving with determination towards consolidating its independence on the national and international scenes. At the national level, political reforms and security are among the major challenges that the new State is facing.
“However, the Government’s introduction of political and security reforms show strong commitment to establishing a stable and democratic state worthy of the people of South Sudan,” she stated.