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S. Sudan government denies aid agencies’ threat claims

February 13, 2013 (JUBA) – The government of South Sudan on Wednesday denied reports alleging aid agencies operating in the world’s youngest nation are being threatened by security forces in the country.

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South Sudan’s information minister, Benjamin Marial, at a press conference in Juba, 13 June 2012 (ST)

“There are reports in the press that the aid agencies that are working in South Sudan here are under regular threats from members of security services and that they will beat them up or arrest them or commandeer their equipments. I can assure you, this is not true,” said Benjamin Marial, South Sudan’s information minister.

In an interview with Reuters earlier this week, Vincent Lelei, country head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the number of incidents hampering the work of aid agencies had increased by almost 50 percent in the last year, with torturous bureaucracy also hindering agencies’ daily work in the young nation.

Speaking at a media briefing in the capital Juba, Marial said his government has never received any complaint from aid agencies on the matter, and challenged them to identify members of the security forces allegedly involved.

“If there is such an incident happening, they should come and inform the government. Where are these security agencies threatening aid agencies? It’s not in the tradition of the people of South Sudan to threaten agencies helping our people,” he added

Marial also dismissed as “untrue” claims that the UN received at least 61 reports of humanitarian workers being beaten up while doing their work last year and that over 70 aid workers were arbitrarily detained.

“Can you give us these 61 reports? You bring them back to us and we shall cooperate with you so as to identify who these security agencies are,” Marial said.

Peter Lam Both, the chairperson of South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC), said some of the cases from aid agencies were “isolated” incidences and cannot be generalised.

“How can you claim you are being threatened when you don’t report such cases to the relevant authorities? All these NGOs [Non-Governmental Organisations] operate under this government and they should cooperate with us,” Lam told Sudan Tribune in a separate interview.

Since it attained independence in July 2011, there have been numerous calls for reform within South Sudan’s security forces, often in the spotlight for alleged human rights violations.

Last year, a report by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) accused the national army (SPLA) of allegedly harassing, raping and killing innocent civilians during the disarmament exercise carried out in its most populous state, Jonglei.

The army, however, denied the claims, insisting the UN findings were baseless.

Grinding poverty and a lack of basic services makes South Sudan’s government heavily dependent on the United Nations and other aid agencies to provide healthcare, food, education and infrastructure, with an estimated $ 1.16 billion needed to address urgent humanitarian needs in the country in 2013.

(ST)