Friday, December 12, 2014

South Sudan: "International patience ‘wearing thin’ with warring parties in South Sudan"

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Ellen Margrethe Løj briefs the press in Juba. UN Photo/Isaac Gideon

Leaders on both sides of the conflict in South Sudan must inject “a new sense of urgency” into the peace process in order to reach a comprehensive peace agreement as soon as possible, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General said during a press conference in Juba today.

“The patience of the international community with both parties is wearing thin,” warned Ellen Margrethe Løj, who is also head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). “The mandate of the mission was recently renewed and remains unchanged from the previous one. I believe it is fair to say that its member-states were sending both of the warring parties a clear message when the Council voted to streamline UNMISS operations earlier this year.”

Ms. Løj said she looked forward to the conclusion of a consultative conference on the peace process currently being held by the armed opposition, hoping that both parties would then return to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-sponsored peace talks with “a heightened sense of responsibility and openness to compromise” to reach a swift and successful conclusion.

While the “brutal, man-made and thus ultimately avoidable conflict” was ongoing, the people of South Sudan had endured enormous suffering and the Mission would continue to fulfil its mandate of protection of civilians, particularly for the approximately 1.5 million internally displaced people, 100,000 of whom sought refuge in UN camps.

“In the history of UN peacekeeping operations, the past 12 months will be remembered as the time when UNMISS opened its bases to civilians facing a threat of physical violence,” she continued. “I am convinced that many lives were saved by this action.”

The sites on UNMISS bases where people were staying were envisioned only as temporary solutions to protect civilians in imminent danger of physical violence and were not supposed to become permanent settlements.

“We need to focus more on fostering a safe and secure environment outside the UN camps,” she declared, adding that she looked forward to a time when displaced people would be able to voluntarily leave UNMISS compounds.

Turning to the responsibilities of the Government, including its national security forces, the SPLA and the South Sudan National Police Service, Ms. Løj underlined that the ultimate responsibility for protection of civilians remained with local authorities. She remarked, however, that the Mission would continue to “work closely” with the South Sudan National Police Service to support its pilot programme encouraging IDPs living in UNMISS’ Juba protection sites to return to three specific neighbourhoods in the national capital.

While reporting successes in the Mission’s work on monitoring and reporting of human rights violations, grassroots conflict resolution, and averting a much-feared famine, she warned that the overall humanitarian situation remains “dire.”

“An estimated 1.5 million people are already experiencing crisis and emergency phases of food insecurity, and that figure could rise to 2.5 million in the coming weeks and months,” she said.

“The number of South Sudanese who will be targeted for humanitarian aid next year is expected to surpass the four million mark.”