April 6, 2017 (JUBA) - On Thursday, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) dismissed reports that a team of peacekeepers that had been dispatched by the United Nation Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) were prevented from accessing Pajok by the government forces.
According to the Eri Kaneko, the UN Associate Spokesperson, the peacekeepers were heading to the area to investigate and verify the confrontation between the armed opposition and government soldiers. It has been reported that civilians were trapped and gang raped, while others were targeted and killed.
Speaking at a news briefing at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, Kaneko said their colleagues at UNMISS reported that UN peacekeepers were prevented from gaining access to Pajok in Eastern Equatoria by the SPLA.
The UN spokesperson said they had received reports of fighting between the SPLA troops and the opposition in Pajok. They are now trying to follow-up on reports of civilian killing in the area.
"The UN mission’s patrol was stopped at a checkpoint 7km outside Torit and was prevented from proceeding further. The patrol remained at the checkpoint in efforts to negotiate access,” Kaneko told reporters at the briefing in New York.
She continued to add that UNMISS was concerned with the reports and has called on the government to allow the mission access to Pajok with immediate effect, as per their obligation by the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) between the host country and the peacekeeping mission.
The agreement includes the protection of civilians and reporting human right violations.
In a separate statement Lam Paul Gabriel, the opposition spokesperson, said that the government forces attacked Pajok on Monday and burned down houses, raped civilians and help public executions.
Col Santo Domic Chol, the SPLA Deputy Spokesperson denied that their forces had attempted to prevent the UN peacekeepers getting into Pajok.
He claimed that the UN did not need permission from them and should coordinate their operations with the government, as stipulated under SOFA.
“All this is not correct. We do not have such reports from our forces on the ground. We did not block anybody from doing their work. The United Nations mission in South Sudan has a mandate which does not need us to tell them where to go. They have the mandate to go out and verify whatever they have heard, but I must assure you that we did not block them, Col. Chol told reporters on Thursday when asked to comment on the reports of blockage.