As the conflict escalates in South Sudan, where fighting has now driven more than 400,000 people from their homes and left twice as many in dire need of aid, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has strongly condemned anti- and pro-Government forces for stealing food and vehicles used by the humanitarian community, reiterating that the United Nations will continue to actively protect civilians applying strict impartiality.
In a statement issued last night, his spokesperson said Mr. Ban is “alarmed by the rising number of fatalities resulting from the continuing fighting in South Sudan”. He also noted reports received on 14 January of about 200 people civilians who had drowned in the Nile River while fleeing hostilities in Malakal in the Upper Nile State.
Mr. Ban also expressed deep concern about the rising number of displaced people in the country, which surpassed 400,000, according to UN figures, since the conflict erupted on 15 December between President Salva Kiir’s forces and those of former deputy president Riek Machar.
According to the statement, the UN chief “strongly condemns the commandeering of humanitarian vehicles and the theft of food stocks and other relief items by both Government and anti-Government forces.”
He also reiterated that the people responsible for attacks against civilians, humanitarian workers and UN personnel will be held to account.
The Secretary-General repeated again his calls on all parties to cease hostilities and to do their utmost to prevent civilian casualties, uphold principles of International Humanitarian Law and respect human rights.
He also urged both sides to engage constructively in talks being held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa under the patronage of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD).
Meanwhile, the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), reports a “fluid” situation in Malakal, Upper Nile state, after its base in the city was fired on last night. In that incident, a civilian seeking shelter on the base was killed. Dozens of civilians and a UN military officer suffered gunshot wounds inside the base and received medical attention at the Mission’s hospital.
“The Mission said that peacekeepers fired multiple rounds of gunfire to deter anyone engaged in fighting from coming too close to its base, in order to protect civilians,” a UN spokesperson told journalists in New York. Some 20,000 civilians continue to seek refuge at the compound.
According to the UN Mission, while the fighting has stopped, sporadic gunfire can be heard in Malakal, and near its base in Bor, which is protecting 9,000 civilians. An additional 6,000 civilians are seeking shelter in Bentiu.