UNITED NATIONS, January 10, 2:32 /ITAR-TASS/. The United Nations has named a new tentative date for the arrival of an additional peacekeeping contingent to South Sudan which has been torn by ethnic strife.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said the number of peacekeepers in South Sudan would be brought to 12,500 personnel (14,000 with U.N. police) within the next month or two.
In late December 2013, the U.N. Security Council ordered a temporary increase in the number of peacekeepers and police personnel in South Sudan from 7,500 and decided to send helicopter gunships and planes in their support.
Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, confirmed that the government of Nepal had agreed to send 850 troops to South Sudan, 350 of whom will be transferred from the U.N. Mission in Haiti, and the other 500 will come from Nepal.
The situation at the base in Bor in Jonglei State of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), where over 9,000 civilians are being protected, remains strained, Haq said.
The Mission confirmed that 6 resupply helicopters had made it to Bor on Thursday, January 9, in addition to the 3 that went in January 8. It had delivered food supplies and medically evacuated 54 civilians back to Juba. U.N. flights had so far been unable to reach Bor for the past few days.
In order to cope with the increasing numbers of civilians seeking shelter with the U.N., the Mission reported that it was expanding its protection site.
UNMISS also said that the outcome of the fighting in Bentiu in Upper Nile state was “unclear and fluid.” U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan Toby Lanzer is currently assessing the humanitarian situation in the city, where explosions and fighting were reportedly heard on Thursday morning, January 9. Currently, more than 8,000 internally displaced people are being protected by 550 troops in the U.N. base at Bentiu.
Hilde Johnson, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMISS, travelled on January 8 to Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile, where she met with the Governor of the State and UNMISS staff.
While on the UNMISS compound, Johnson visited the protection site where 12,000 civilians are currently sheltered after seeking safety on the UNMISS base. She met with community leaders who expressed their concerns, but also their gratitude for the Mission’s support and assistance. She further went to the Indian field hospital which has been treating over a thousand casualties and witnessing the birth of ten babies since the beginning of the crisis.
Fresh fighting in the world’s newest country erupted on December 15, 2013, when President Kiir said soldiers loyal to Machar, dismissed from office in July of last year, had launched an attempted coup. Kiir belongs to the Dinka ethnic group and Machar to the Lou Nuer, and the conflict has been increasingly marked by reports of ethnically targeted violence, the U.N. said.
Thousands of people are estimated to have died in the violence and some 180,000 others have been driven from their homes, up to 75,000 of them seeking refuge on UNMISS bases, which has been authorised by the U.N. Security Council to almost double its armed strength to nearly 14,000 in an effort to protect civilians.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on January 2 introduced a state of emergency in two states controlled by rebels led by former deputy president Riek Machar.
The state of emergency was imposed in the states of Jonglei and Unity. On January 1, rebels took Jonglei’s capital of Bor, 200 km of Juba, the capital of the country. They have also been controlling Unity’s capital of Bentiu since December 15, 2013, when the conflict erupted.
The government has admitted that Bor, which has changed hands several times over the two weeks of fighting, has been retaken by the rebels again.
The clashes that started in Juba have since then spread to six of the ten states.
Red Cross said that about 70,000 people in Jonglei were crossing the White Nile in order to get to the neighbouring state of Lakes.
According to the United Nations, about 231,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in South Sudan, including about 65,000 at the UNMISS bases. A further 42,800 South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries including Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda — 32,000 of them in Uganda alone.
Ladsous said that more than 1,000 people have been killed in South Sudan and confirmed that the human rights situation in that country remained “very serious.”
The government of South Sudan and rebels began direct talks in the capital of Ethiopia last week. Cessation of hostilities, opening humanitarian corridors, the issue of political prisoners, and protection of civilians will form the main agenda of the talks.
“It is a step in the right direction,” Johnson, who also heads the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said, adding that negotiations in Addis Ababa had to be accompanied by a deeper process that focuses on national reconciliation, and reconciliation between the communities which have not healed since South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war.
“The country is at a crossroads. It’s at the fork in the road,” Johnson said. “But it can still be saved from further major escalations of violence. It is up to the leaders of this country and the two parties.”
UN officials have repeatedly called for a cessation of violence and a political solution to the conflict, including accountability for grave human rights violations.
International aid agencies will need 166 million U.S. dollars to respond to immediate needs until March, Johnson noted, calling for assistance from donors, the U.N. said.
The United Nations has released 15 million U.S. dollars from its humanitarian rapid response fund for critical relief operations in South Sudan, where over 230,000 people have been driven from their homes since fighting erupted between government and opposition forces nearly a month ago.
“Conditions for the South Sudanese fleeing hostilities in their country are getting worse by the day,” U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said in announcing the allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) on January 8.
“With this CERF funding, UN humanitarian agencies will be better able to meet the needs of people desperately seeking shelter and safety,” she said.
CERF, established by the UN General Assembly seven years ago, has grown to become one of the largest and most reliable sources of humanitarian funding. Since 2006, it has disbursed more than 3.2 billion U.S. dollars to emergencies in 88 countries, with donors pledging 404.6 million U.S. dollars last month for 2014. CERF allocated almost 482 million U.S. dollars in 2013, 11.6 million U.S. dollars of it for South Sudan.
Since the country gained independence in July 2011, aid agencies have received almost 74.4 million U.S. dollars from CERF for critical assistance, including food, clean water, shelter and health services.