There is no alternative to silencing the guns and immediately agreeing a comprehensive peace deal so South Sudan can return to the path of peace and stability, the United Nations envoy for the strife-riven country said today, urging the Security Council and regional leaders to help bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.
Briefing the Security Council, Ellen Margrethe Løj, head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said this is the message that she has consistently conveyed to all her interlocutors, including President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar.
“I have told them that the guns must be silenced; peace cannot be delayed even for one more day. The untold suffering of the people of South Sudan must stop,” declared Ms. Løj, telling the Council that after 6 weeks in South Sudan as head of the UN mission, she is convinced that every day without a political agreement, contributes to a further deterioration of the situation on the ground.
Forces loyal to political rivals Mr. Kiir and his former Vice-President Mr. Machar, have been battling for the past 10 months, turning what began as a political spat into all out conflict that has sent more than 100,000 civilians fleeing to UNMISS bases around the country. The crisis has uprooted some 1.8 million people and placed more than 7 million at risk of hunger and disease.
The ongoing absence of a concrete peace deal complicates the work of the Mission and risks negatively impacting the region. As such, Ms. Løj called on the Council, regional leaders and all friends of this young nation to remain fully engaged with the warring parties so that they make the necessary compromise required to translate their public statements of commitment to peace into actions on the ground.
“The people of South Sudan deserve no less.”
On the security front, she explained that small scale skirmishes have continued between the two parties to the conflict. Two weeks ago the Opposition forces mobilized from the Canal area of Northern Jonglei state and attacked and captured Dolleib Hill to the south of Malakal in Upper Nile state.
In Unity state, “tensions remain high”, said Ms. Løj, particularly around the UNMISS protection site in Bentiu, with the Sudan People´s Liberation Army (SPLA), continuing to allege that the UNMISS protection site is an Opposition stronghold.
Outside the traditional conflict zones, UNMISS is also keeping a close eye on Lakes state, where inter-communal violence continues which, in the most recent spate, left 30 dead in Rumbek Centre in early October. “The Government is deploying additional security forces to Rumbek in an attempt to bring the security situation under control,” she added.
Turning to other issues, Ms. Løj said that across the country, the humanitarian situation remains “dire”, with around four million people, close to a third of the population, facing serious food insecurity. Aid agencies are working hard to support those in need, with over 3.2 million people having been reached with some form of humanitarian assistance over the course of the year.
“UNMISS will continue to support the humanitarian community to ensure the key needs of the people of South Sudan are met” she said, noting that during the dry season, requests are likely to increase for the Mission to provide force protection to relief convoys and sites where relief is prepositioned and stored. The arrival of the remainder of the authorized surge capacity, including the proposed riverine capacity, will be key to respond to these needs.
“However, no amount of aid can solve the crisis or convince people to return home: only peace and reconciliation can and, sadly, in the absence of both, the aid operation will have to be sustained if we are to continue to prevent the humanitarian situation from further deteriorating,” cautioned Ms. Løj.
As for the human rights situation, she told the Council: “I must say that since I have been on the ground, I have been shocked by the complete disregard for human life. Those responsible for committing atrocities and human rights violations must be held to account and face justice.” In that regard, she looked forward to the findings of the African Union Commission of Inquiry.
Highlighting another critical issue, Ms. Løj although relations between UNMISS and national authorities have improved at the political level and the number of violations of the Status of Forces agreement has decreased over the past couple of months, such violations have, in fact continued.
“I am seriously concerned by the recent spate of unlawful arrests and detentions, and abductions targeting UN and humanitarian personnel. Two of our national staffs have remained in detention since August,” she said, adding that on 10 October, three UNMISS Individual Contractors were abducted at Malakal Airport, two of whom have since been released but the third person is yet to be found.
Further, on 16 October a UN agency national staff member was abducted at Malakal Airport by unknown persons. “I urge Government authorities to do everything within their power to see that the captured UNMISS individual contractor and the UN agency staff member are freed quickly and unharmed,” she said.