The United Nations mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has condemned this morning’s outbreak of violence in Bentiu which caused hundreds of people to seek shelter at the nearest airport.
“I am deeply troubled by this morning’s outbreak of violence and condemn it,” Toby Lanzer, UNMISS officer-in-charge, said in a press release from the Mission.
Between 6:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. this morning, heavy, sustained small arms and artillery fire was heard to the South East of the UNMISS Base in Bentiu, which is the capital of Unity State. One artillery shell exploded next to the UNMISS base, however nobody was injured by the blast.
Approximately 340 civilians fled from Bentiu and took shelter with UNMISS troops stationed at the airport. The Mission protected the civilians and then escorted them from the airport to the protection of civilians (POC) area in the UNMISS compound outside Bentiu.
“UNMISS has taken swift action to protect the people who sought shelter at the airport and we are now receiving these civilians into our base,” Mr. Lanzer continued, “And I call on those responsible for today’s hostilities to refrain from any further violence, and to avoid any actions that hinder the protection or assistance provided by UNMISS and aid agencies, respectively.”
Political in-fighting between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, started in mid-December 2013 and has since turned into a full-fledged conflict that also sent nearly 100,000 civilians fleeing to UNMISS bases around the country. Overall, the crisis has uprooted some 1.5 million people and placed more than 7 million at risk of hunger and disease.
These latest clashes come as the two rivals and their representatives fell short of the goal of reaching a power-sharing deal by 10 August, through talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, being facilitated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Earlier this week, the UN Security Council, as part of a wider mission that included stops in Belgium, the Netherlands and Somalia, visited South Sudan and reiterated that it is ready to impose sanctions against anyone who undermines the ongoing talks.
Speaking to the press in the capital Juba, Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant of the United Kingdom, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council for August, reread a statement adopted earlier by the 15-member expressing readiness to consider “all appropriate measures” against those who undermine the peace, stability and security of the country.
“This is a very clear statement by all 15 members of the Security Council that there will be consequences for those who try to undermine agreements that are reached in the Addis Ababa talks,” Mr. Grant said, speaking alongside Foreign Minister Barbaba Marial Benjamin.