April 17 2014 (JUBA) – The UN’s humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, said he was deeply saddened and frustrated by the violence that has ravaged the strategic towns of Bentiu and Bor over the past few days.
- Civilians fleeing violence seek refuge at a UN camp in Bor, the capital of South Sudan’s Jonglei state, following the eruption of violence in the country in mid-December (AP)
In press statement from the capital, Juba, Lanzer said there is no excuse for direct attacks on civilians, or on those providing protection to them.
Lanzer was reacting to an attack on a UN base camp in the Jonglei state capital Bor, which is sheltering about 5,000 civilians displaced by violence in the country, predominantly from the Nuer ethnic group.
There are unconfirmed reports that at least 30 people were killed after armed youth demonstrators stormed the compound, opening fire on civilians and clashing with a peacekeeping contingent from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Two UNMISS peacekeepers also sustained injuries during the incident, but the final death toll remains unknown.
The incident followed the capture of Unity state capital Bentiu on Monday by rebel forces aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar, who hails from the Nuer group and is accused of staging a coup attempt in mid-December last year to depose president Salva Kiir, a Dinka.
The incident reportedly occurred after armed local Dinka Bor youths entered the site to deliver a protest letter calling for IDPs to be relocated from the area.
It’s believed protesters were angered after witnessing IDPs celebrating after the fall of Bentiu.
Youths have claimed they were simply responding after being fired on from the UNMISS camp, but UNMISS disputes these accounts, saying the armed mob forced its way inside after ignoring repeated warning shots fired into the air by its forces.
Lanzer has warned that South Sudan is facing a bleak future if the current cycle of violence continues.
“These events show, yet again, the pointlessness of the violence engulfing South Sudan. The current cycle of revenge will get the people of this country nowhere. It wrecks the present, and casts a dark shadow over what should have been a very bright future,” he said.
In a strongly worded statement following the raid on the Bor base, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said any attack on UN peacekeepers constitutes a war crime.
“This attack on a location where civilians are being protected by the United Nations is a serious escalation,” the statement said.
“The secretary- general expresses his condolences to the bereaved families and pledges all possible support to those wounded in this attack,” it adds.
Meanwhile, Lanzer said the number of people seeking shelter at the UNMISS base in Bentiu has doubled in recent days, with at least 9,000 people sheltering inside.
Lanzer called on parties to the conflict to immediately cease hostilities and resume meaningful negotiations to find a political solution to the ongoing crisis.
Lanzer’s and Ban’s comments reflect a growing sense of frustration among UN agencies over the failure of parties to the conflict to stem violence in the country.
“We are doing an awful lot, but we can never do enough and we shouldn’t be called on to do everything,” said Lanzer in a separate statement on Tuesday. “This is the responsibility of the leaders of South Sudan … It is only the leaders and the people of South Sudan who can reconcile their differences and who eventually can build their own country.”
He said if South Sudan is to achieve peace and become “viable state” it would need “compassion, humility and a new way of thinking”.