UN Begins Withdrawal from South Sudan Protection of Civilians Camps

By Deng Machol

UN. peacekeepers engage with South Sudanese women and children before emergency supplies are distributed at a protection of civilians site in Juba .Photo credit Adriane Ohanesian/Reuters
UN. peacekeepers engage with South Sudanese women and children before emergency supplies are distributed at a protection of civilians site in Juba .Photo credit Adriane Ohanesian/Reuters

Juba – The United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said it has begun withdrawing its troops and police from the protection of civilians camps that continue to shelter more than 180,000 people two years after the end of the country’s civil war to different areas in the country.

David Shearer, UN chief said that the need is to shift peacekeepers to new hotspots in the country where people’s lives are in immediate danger, notably Jonglei state.

South Sudan’s civil war erupted just two years in late 2013 after the world’s youngest country won independence from Sudan, has killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced four million people from their homes. In aftermath of the conflict, many frantic civilians sought shelter at the U.N. compound across the country.

The withdrawal process has begun at the camps in Wau and Bor, the U.N. said. The other camps are in Malakal, Bentiu and the capital, Juba.

 “After careful planning going back almost a year, UNMISS has begun to progressively withdraw its troops and police from the Bor and Wau POCs, leading to a situation today where there are no longer any of those uniformed forces inside those sites or in the guard towers around them. That has occurred because we assessed that any threats that may have existed in the past are no longer in existence today,” Shearer told reporters on Friday in Juba.

He further said that no one will be forced to leave the camps, adding that South Sudan’s government will take over responsibility for their security.

“Nobody will be pushed out or asked to leave when UNMISS withdraws. Humanitarian services will continue. I want to emphasize those points. It’s just that the sites will no longer be under our jurisdiction but will be, as I said, IDP sites like so many other IDP sites across the country,” said Shearer.

The camps have seen attacks over the years, and insecurity outside them became so severe that some women and young girls venturing out for wood or other supplies were sexually assaulted.

“When that occurs, the sites are no longer POC sites but camps for internally displaced people under the jurisdiction of the government. It will be the government’s responsibility to find other land for these people to settle, or to help them to return to their homes or assist those whose houses are occupied by others,” he added.

In the recent years, there has been talk of closing the camps. Now, instead, the U.N. mission says South Sudan’s police will be responsible for law and order once the U.N. peacekeepers have left.

“The South Sudan National Police Service will be responsible for law and order. UN police officers have been working closely with the national police for several months now to help build their capacity, and we look forward to doing so in the future,” said Shearer.

The UN chief said the Transitional Government of South Sudan has primary responsibility for protecting all its citizens and they will, of course, extend that protection to those in the former POC sites. Where this protection is missing, UNMISS still has a clear mandate to protect civilians and intervene.

Surge Violence

Despite the formation of transitional of government six months ago, the UN chief says the violence is continue to be surge across the country, mainly in Central Equatoria and Jonglei states, threatening to peace process.

Over the past week, armed attacks on civilians and humanitarian convoys in the Yei-Lasu and Juba-Yei roads in Central Equatoria state.

On Tuesday, two civilians were killed and four injured during an ambush by heavily armed men belonging to the National Salvation Front (NAS).

Recently, six of Vice President Wanni Igga’s bodyguards were killed in a similar attack near Lobonok, which NAS has claimed responsibility for.

“This surge in violence is deeply disturbing and is leading to clashes between those who are carrying them out and SSPDF and SPLA-IO forces. Inevitably, many civilians have been affected,” said Shearer.

Due to that, the UN chief says they have setting up a temporary operating base in Lobonok, so that the troops can do regular patrols and try and prevent further attacks and hopefully calm the situation down.

Shearer emphasized that the parties to should observed the Cessation of Hostilities that was signed nearly three years ago and the Rome Declaration earlier this year.

“They should live up to that commitment, stop fighting, and protect communities – instead of causing harm,” said Shearer.

On Jonglei, while the security situation has been a bit calmer recently, the UN chief say, tensions still remain very high and every effort must be made to ensure that fighting does not flare up again.

In the past six months, the inter-communal fighting has killed over 600 people, in our estimate, although that could be quite conservative, Shearer said. Women and children have been kidnapped, and cattle stolen. Thousands have fled the area, homes and villages have been burned.

However, this fighting was made worse by flooding in the area, with OCHA reporting almost 160,000 people now displaced.

The humanitarians are working very hard to try and help these people who are living in the open without shelter – or without health care, adequate food, sanitation – in the middle of the rainy season.

“But for recovery and rebuilding to take place, the cycle of violence must stop. All these groups are responsible for the violence. There are no innocent parties. The solution lies with them. And we all have seen so much suffering that we need to bring it to an end now,” said Shearer on Friday.

They Shearer says are prepared to put peacekeepers on the ground while the leaders negotiate the return of families and other issues that are underlying the problems, adding that they will be working with all groups – the Nuer, Murle and Dinka – to organize a series of meetings to help resolve these grievances.

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