July 2, 2014 (KAMPALA) – South Sudanese security officials on Monday temporarily detained and eventually prevented four national staff working for the United Nations Mission in the country (UNMISS) from leaving Juba airport after confiscating their passports and identity cards.
The four were among nearly 30 officials heading for a training organised in Uganda. They were to travel on the mission’s aircraft. The detained staff were only set free after senior UNMISS officials reportedly intervened and brought them back to the UN compound.
Joe Contreras, the acting UNMISS spokesperson confirmed the incident, saying two other national staff of the mission faced similar treatment at the airport on Tuesday.
“The mission is seeking clarification from the authorities on the grounds for the confiscation of the staff members’ passports and for preventing their travel. The staff members were traveling on UN official business to undergo training at the UN regional support centre in Entebbe”, he told Sudan Tribune Wednesday.
Contreras further said UNMISS was not given any legal explanation or reasons why its national staff were barred from their official travel, but later confirmed that the confiscated passports and identity cards were eventually released by the authorities.
One of the victims told Sudan Tribune Tuesday that security operatives allegedly targeted mainly the Nuer national staffs headed for the training.
“We were about 30 UNMISS staff from various tribes in South Sudan. As we were checking in for flight to Entebbe, security operatives at Juba airport identified four of us who are Nuer among the staffs and discriminately confiscated our passports and IDs from UNMISS,” said the staff, who preferred anonymity.
He said there was no reason given or any charge by the security officers for stopping them from travelling, adding that they were simply told to first obtain a clearance from the national security department.
Multiple sources working for UNMISS accused the security operatives at the airport of “exercising tribalism and denying individuals freedom of the movement based on their ethnic background.”
“They were selected in front of us and taken away and their passports confiscated in the process,” an Equatorian UNMISS official who was in the group, but successfully travelled to Kampala said.
ARRESTS NOT NEW
Last week, security operatives at Juba airport also detained and confiscated passports of two rebel colonels; Gathon Jual and Daniel Gatbel, both from the Nuer tribe.
The two military officials were trying to fly to Addis Ababa for a training organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is mediating the peace talks between the government and its armed opposition.
The two represent the rebel movement in the Monitoring and Verification Team (MVT), based in Juba.
They were only released when the chairman of the MVT intervened, but failed to convince the authorities to allow them travel.
Rebels, led by the former vice president, Riek Machar, accused the government of violating the agreement conducting the work of MVT staffs which would have facilitated the officials to attend the training.
The six-month old violence started when president Salva Kiir allegedly ordered for a discriminate disarmament of the Nuer soldiers in the presidential guards unit, sparking the violence along ethnic lines largely pitting Kiir’s Dinka, the largest ethnic group in South Sudan against Machar’s Nuer, the second largest tribe.
Observers say the prevailing and continuous unfavourable treatment of Nuer individuals in government-controlled areas adds more salt to injury as many consider them rebel supporters.
Many Nuer officials, however, continue working in government with some in senior political and security positions.