A senior United Nations official in South Sudan has called for restraint and underlined the need to ensure the protection of civilians as fresh fighting has erupted between Government and opposition forces in a number of locations across the country.
According to a news release issued by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), clashes between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and opposition groups have taken place in Raga (western South Sudan), Waat (Jonglei state, eastern South Sudan), and in Wunkur and Tonga towns (northern, Upper Nile state).
“[The warring parties] must once and for all silence the guns, return to dialogue, reconcile their differences and bring the peace the South Sudanese people want and deserve,” said Moustapha Soumaré, the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country.
“During this holy celebration of Easter, which for many symbolises reconciliation and the rebirth of hope, I call on all parties to prove their commitment to peace,” he added.
The escalation of violence follows recent fighting in Pajok (near the border with Uganda) that caused some 6,000 to flee across the border as well as in Wau that displaced many civilians and also claimed the lives of three workers contracted by the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
According to UNMISS, the Protection of Civilians site adjacent to its base in Wau has received some 13,500 newly displaced persons, taking the total number of the displaced sheltering there to 38,746. Around 3,000 others are also reportedly seeking refuge at other non-UN compounds.
The Mission also noted that it continues to push for access to areas affected by the conflict and that, despite challenges in reaching some parts of the country, it has successfully deployed a number of peacekeeping patrols to deter violence and protect civilians.
It also continues to monitor the human rights situation in line with its mandate.
Attacks against aid workers who are 'simply trying to help' exasperating human suffering
Also today, highlighting the dangers to relief workers in the country, the Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Eugene Owusu, expressed “deep disappointment” that despite numerous assurances and commitments, the operating space for relief work remains extremely challenging.
The killing of the three WFP workers last week took the total number of aid workers killed in the country to 82 and those killed thus far this year to 14. Last year, 24 relief workers lost their lives.
“There are no words left to explain the level of frustration and outrage I feel regarding the continued attacks against humanitarians in South Sudan who are simply trying to help the civilians who are suffering as a result of this conflict,” said Mr. Owusu in a news release issued by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The release further noted that, 60 humanitarian workers have also had to relocate from multiple locations in Jonglei yesterday and today – including Waat and Walgak – due to intensified conflict in the area.
“I am deeply disappointed that, despite the assurances that we have received and the commitments that have been made, humanitarians are again having to relocate, and civilians again being uprooted, in an area where needs were already high,” added the Humanitarian Coordinator.
“I call on the parties to the conflict to uphold their responsibilities under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and ensure the proportionality of their actions.”