Amid escalating tensions and deadly clashes between military factions in South Sudan, the United Nations Mission in the country today announced that it has begun relocating staff from the capital, Juba, while Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has demanded that South Sudanese political and military leaders end all hostilities and targeted attacks against civilians.
In a statement issued early this morning, UNMISS announced that, as a precautionary measure to reduce pressure on its limited resources, it will relocate non-critical staff from Juba to the Ugandan city of Entebbe.
Also, on Saturday, UNMISS relocated all remaining civilian staff from its compound in the Jonglei state capital of Bor to Juba. At the same time, the Mission is planning to reinforce its military presence in Bor and Pariang to continue fulfilling its mandate to help protect South Sudanese civilians.
“We are not abandoning South Sudan. We are here to stay, and will carry on in our collective resolve to work with and for the people of South Sudan,” said Special Representative for South Sudan and head of UNMISS, Hilde Johnson.
The decision to relocate some staff comes three days after an UNMISS base in Akobo, in restive Jonglei state, was overrun by an estimated 2,000 heavily armed assailants in a brazen attack that left some 20 Dinka ethnic civilians dead alongside two UN peacekeepers. Another peacekeeper was wounded in the incident. After the attack, the assailants, believed to be of Lour Nuer ethnicity, fled with arms, ammunition and other supplies.
“To anyone who wants to threaten us, attack us or put obstacles in our way, our message remains loud and clear: we will not be intimidated,” said Ms. Johnson.
“The United Nations has taken this decision to relocate staff …while UNMISS continues to provide assistance and shelter to over 20,000 civilians gathered inside its compounds in the South Sudanese national capital,” the statement adds.
Plans are underway to relocate all non-critical UNMISS staff from the Mission's compound near the Unity State capital of Bentiu later today, and reinforcements are also being planned for Bentiu.
UNMISS continues to engage, together with international and regional partners, with key South Sudanese leaders in its ongoing efforts to help find a peaceful solution to the current crisis. Once the security situation in the country has stabilized, the Mission anticipates the return of non-critical staff to Juba.
Meanwhile, expressing his grave concern about the deteriorating security situation Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded that all political, military and militia leaders to hostilities and end the violence against civilians.
“I call on President Salva Kiir of South Sudan and opposition political leaders, including former Vice President Riek Machar, to come to the table to find a political way out of this crisis, the UN chief said at the start of a press conference in Manila, where he was wrapping up a three-day visit to some of the areas of the country hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan.
Mr. Ban said the situation in South Sudan was of serious concern to the international community and that the young country's political and military leadership have a responsibility to the people to end the crisis and find the political means of addressing their differences.
Deadly clashes have escalated in the country since last weekend, according to media reports, following what President Kiir's Government claimed was an attempted coup by soldiers loyal to the former Vice President, who was dismissed in July.
He reiterated his call on the country's political players to “do everything in their power to ensure that their followers hear the message loud and clear that continued violence, ethnic and otherwise, is completely unacceptable and poses a dangerous threat to the future of their young country.”
The Secretary-General said the UN is doing its best to mobilize, first of all, mediation capacity, including through his decision to dispatch senior officials to Juba.
“And I understand that the African Union has also sent their mediation team. The foreign ministers of five countries of IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] are also on the ground, meeting with both parties – [the Government of] South Sudan and the former Vice President Machar's party,” he added.
As for efforts to protect vulnerable civilians, he said that the UN is actively trying to transfer assets from other peacekeeping missions, like the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and some other areas.
“And we are also seeking support from other key countries [that] can provide the necessary assets. We are in shortage of capacity,” the Secretary-General said.