Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 5 January 2014

Urgent that UN in South Sudan provide more information to civilians


By Eric Reeves

January 4, 2014 - As of the evening of January 4 (Juba time) there is growing alarm, even panic among civilians who are receiving conflicting reports from a wide range of sources—some open, some confidential, but all having an impact on those living in or near Juba and Bor, and in towns and villages between these capitals. The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) must subordinate the deployment of peacekeepers to the urgent need to better inform civilians of what is actually happening. Those fleeing often confront severe dangers, deprivation, and death; the example of Awerial (Lakes State), some thirty miles west of Bor, offers a terrifying example (see New York Times [dateline: Awerial], January 3, 2014). Flight should be the last option for civilians, given constraints on humanitarian capacity; and the decision to flee should be as informed as possible.

Toby Lanzer, the chief UN humanitarian official in South Sudan, has warned that the number of displaced is accelerating and could reach 300,000 to 400,000 "in a matter of days" (Voice of America, January 2, 2014). Extrapolating forward even cautiously suggests just how massive the displaced population will soon become, and how difficult it will be to provide them with humanitarian relief. Flight is inevitable in what increasingly appears to be all-out civil war; but to the extent that people can be informed of what the real dangers and risks are, this is for now the most important humanitarian service that can be rendered. Riek Machar and one of his senior commanders, Brigadier General Khor Chol, have both declared that Juba will fall soon (see excerpts of news reports). What can the UN tell us—tell the people of South Sudan—of the validity of this claim?

The Bor-Juba road, some 200 kilometers, is not a great distance by the standards of South Sudan. Patrol by unarmed drone aircraft, higher-flying fixed-wing aircraft, or satellite surveillance might all be continuously conducted in the near term. Their sole responsibility would be to ensure that reporting is as accurate as possible in the interest of civilian security and humanitarian decision-making. All UN reporting must be scrupulously neutral; although some limited military advantage may accrue to one side or the other, it is likely to be very small: both sides know what their own and the opposing positions are. It is civilians who have been left in the dark, and decisions made without relevant information threaten to exacerbate what is already a catastrophic situation.

To give a sense of how wildly disparate the accounts are at present, a collection reporting is offered here: a very recent AFP dispatch; an UNMISS statement reported in Gurtong.net; a read-out from the NGO perspective in South Sudan (details blurred for security’s sake); and two lengthier dispatches from the Sudan Tribune. Unless these gross disparities are somehow reconciled, civilians may well assume the worst and act accordingly. This could lead not only to flight but to violence, including ethnic violence. Juba has variously described as "calm," "relatively normal, and "operating as usual" over the past few days. But a report from Agence France-Presse this evening ([Juba], January 4, 2014) makes clear how quickly the situation on the ground can change, catching civilians unaware: "Explosions from reported artillery fire as well as the constant rattle of automatic weapons were heard in Juba’s key government district, where most ministries, the presidential palace and the parliament are located." Subsequent reports suggest that the firing reflected disorder in the SPLA ranks, but nothing is certain.

UNMISS has not been inactive on this score, as the Sudan Tribune reported today:

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Friday also confirmed that the fighting was going on towards Juba. Col. Mike Chadrick of UNMISS in Bor told the BBC he independently verified that two armed groups were fighting about 40 miles away on Juba-Bor road.

But there must be more such briefings, and they must have information that at present is likely to come only from aerial reconnaissance in some form. If civilians are to stay out of the line of fire, which looks to intensify over the next several days according to numerous sources, they need to know more than they do at present.

This article is also published on The Enough Project, All texts referred to are at: http://wp.me/p45rOG-1ae

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  • 5 January 2014 12:17, by Majongdit

    I agree with you Eric. The media including Sudan Tribune have been biased. There is need for accurate information gathering and responsible reporting.
    I came from Awerial yesterday. The displaced people there are really suffering and they are in huge numbers of more than 100,000. They are camping under trees and in open places. Health situation is deteriorating. No food as well.

    repondre message

  • 5 January 2014 12:19, by Majongdit

    If you need pictures that i took while i was Mingkaman (Guolyar) then advise me on how to send them to you.

    repondre message

  • 5 January 2014 13:05, by sudani ana

    Wow eric reeves
    A full article without mentioning Khartoum at all not even once? Are you on new medication to treat your Obsessive Compulsive Khartoum Disorder? What ever you’re on keep taking it, its working. We wish you full and speedy recovery.

    repondre message

    • 5 January 2014 16:43, by choldit

      Mr. Reeves,
      What is that u have with Dinkas who massacred Nuer under the direct order of the president of the republic? No one amongst this media reporter have intention to lower the morale of pro-Salva Kirr soldier but to tell the truth as it is. I was chocked when u were reporting Suffering of Dinkas in lake state with exaggeration without making little reference to other pple in other state.

      repondre message

      • 5 January 2014 16:51, by choldit

        Reeves has replaced Khartoum for the Nuer. He is now so sensitive about and thing that reflects the real nature of the things Dinkas are doing to South Sudanese, especially to the Nuer. But Mr. Reeves seems to not understand that this. Massacre of Nuer In in juba will not go unrevenged on the culprits whether the cover themselves with m7 or Eric Reeves they will be found. Juba fall soon!

        repondre message

        • 8 January 2014 08:38, by Mohammed Ali 2

          Good observation Choldit. The first time in his life he didn’t mention Khartoum.I read the article twice, Khartoum is not there!

          repondre message

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