March 21, 2013 (JUBA) - Civilian protection remains the United Nations key priority in South Sudan, despite recent internal insecurity challenges, Hilde Johnson, the head of the agency’s mission (UNAMISS), told the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Thursday.
- UNAMISS head Hilde Johnson (UN)
Johnson, who is also the special representative of the secretary-general to South Sudan, said a number of measures have been put in place with the help of government to improve the security situation in the young nation.
“We have established procedures with government and the security institutions to address the situation. There is also a commitment by the president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, to punish indiscipline elements among security forces,” Johnson told the UNSC.
She reiterated that civilian protection remained the mandate of the mission and the government, citing the rising insecurity in South Sudan’s Jonglei state and other parts of the country.
A recent UN report said over 17,000 people displaced from their villages in the state’s Pibor and Akobo counties are in desperate need of food assistance.
Jonglei, the country’s largest and most populous state, remains unstable almost two years after South Sudan gained its independence. The region has in recent months experienced a worsening cycle of violence in the form of ethnic clashes and cattle raids.
Barely two weeks ago, an unidentified armed group fired at a UN patrol moving from Gurmuk to Pibor in Jonglei, wounding an Indian peacekeeper.
Up until a few months ago, areas between Pibor and Gumuruk payam were reportedly controlled by a rebel group, which has been operating in Pibor county since militia leader David Yau Yau rebelled for a second time last year against the Juba government.
Yau Yau, who is from the minority Murle ethnic group, started his rebellion in 2010 after losing an election bid to become a member of the state parliament representing Gumruk. In response to an amnesty offer by Kiir in 2011, the rebel leader returned to Juba, only to re-launch his rebellion in April last year.
Since then clashes between the army (SPLA) and forces loyal to Yau Yau have gravely affected the security situation in Jonglei, with the latest peace attempt seen as key in efforts to salvage peace in the region.
However, Johnson cautioned the 15-member council that “the window for dialogue is closing and that military operations may soon be launched.”
She said UNMISS had developed contingency plans in case of potential fighting, which included, strengthening its troop presence, increasing civilian-military patrols to identify possible attacks and ongoing engagement with vulnerable communities.
She also told the council that along with the dangerous proliferation of weapons in South Sudan, the mission’s operations had also been challenged “due to a number of grave violations” to the agreement between the UN and South Sudan.
Last December, a UN helicopter was shot down by SPLA soldiers, who mistook it for a Sudanese military aircraft carrying logistical support to Yau Yau militias in Pibor. All four of its Russian crew members died.
Johnson said UNAMISS had called on the government to conduct a “swift and transparent investigation” in accordance with international civil aviation rules.