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Indian Army colonel in UN peacekeeping operation injured in South Sudan

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SPLA soldiers redeploy south from the Abyei area in line with the road map to resolve the Abyei crisis.

As the UN peacekeeping operations in South Sudan struggles with inadequate resources and widening mandates, an Indian Army colonel was injured in crossfire between two warring groups there on Thursday, according to sources monitoring the mission in New York.

They said the officer was injured in the region of the back of the neck, but not seriously, when a camp in Malakal was hit. Indian peacekeepers are deployed there to protect several thousand refugees.

The Secretary General’s spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, confirmed that a peacekeeper was injured but could not identify him or his nationality. “The UN Mission reports new firing outside of its compound in Malakal,” he said. “One peacekeeper was injured.”

India’s Permanent Representative Asoke Kumar Mukerji had warned the Security Council last week about the deteriorating situation there in two letters to its president, Raimonda Murmokaite that IANS has seen.

On May 20, he wrote, “It is extremely important that the Security Council take urgent action to prevent any casualties and collateral damage with regard to the Indian troops and internally displaced people (IDPs)” or refugees.

The attack occurred hours before the Security Council voted to extend the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) till November end and authorised it “to use all necessary means” to protect civilians “irrespective of the source of such violence.”

On Friday, the UN observes the International Day of Peacekeepers.

Of the 2,000 Indian troops in UNMISS, more than 800 are based in Malakal, situated in South Sudan’s oil-rich Upper Nile state that is sandwiched between Sudan and Ethiopia. The region has been wracked by fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir Mayardit and supporters of former vice president Riek Machar Teny of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO).

The fighting escalated about a week ago when Major General Johnson Olony defected from the government side to Riek Machar’s, taking with him a large troop contigent. Kiir retaliated by moving reinforcements to the area.

Soon afterwards Mukerji wrote to Murmokaite, “The threat is both extremely grave and imminent” and asked for assurance that “every measure feasible will be taken to ensure that casualties and damage are avoided.”

His fears are underscored by the killing of seven Indian army personnel in two separate incidents in 2013 in South Sudan.

Diplomatic sources familiar with the situation in South Sudan said that the a political solution to the conflict was essential to bring peace to the area and the peacekeeping operation could not by itself achieve that. One of them paraphrased UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s quip, “You can’t keep peace if there is no peace” to emphasise the point.

Ban in a report to the Security Council last month conceded that there was a “lack of progress towards securing a peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

The sources faulted the Security Council, which does not adequately consult with troop-contributors, for not taking stronger measures to push the warring sides to a political settlement.

The peacemaking process has virtually been outsourced to a seven-nation East African organisation, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which has so far failed to broker an enforceable peace.

Earlier this month, IGAD admitted it was “deeply frustrated by the spread of violence to Upper Nile.”

Ban has also not given the South Sudan crisis the same level of attention as he has to others like Yemen.

Asked Thursday if the Ban plans to reinvigorate the peace process there, his spokesperson, Dujarric, deferred to IGAD, saying, “It’s something that IGAD continues to be in the lead. We are supportive of that process.”

Although the Security Council adopted the 4,600-word resolution backing the peacekeeping mission and emphasising its mission to protect civilians, the operations are hamstrung by lack of resources and logistical foresight, sources familiar with UNMISS operations said. This makes the peacekeepers vulnerable to attacks and the UN efforts there ineffective.

Recounting the conditions under which the Indian peacekeepers operate, a source who has seen the operations first hand, said that although the Security Council tells them “to use all necessary means,” they are virtual sitting ducks when they come under crossfire.

This is because they cannot retaliate as that would lead to direct attacks that could endanger the civilians they are protecting. “Best bet is to lie low and not do anything unless they are directly attacked,” the source said.

As a protection against mortar and heavy weapon fire, they need bunker-like defensive structure, which the UN and South Sudan government do not want built as that would appear to make the UN compounds sheltering the refugees permanent installations, the source said.

Due to lack of planning and logistics, most of the 5,000 personnel brought in during the troop surge authorised by the Security Council last year are still sitting in Juba, the country’s capital in the south instead of being deployed to areas needing them, the source said.

As result the peacekeepers in the conflict areas are stretched thin and pinned down guarding the refugees, rather than going out on confidence-building patrols. The patrols, undertaken on the ground or from the air, are an important element of the Security Council mandate because they also bring along staff from other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for outreach activities.

Transportating troops, supplies and relief for refugees difficult because South Sudan has few roads. The Upper Nile state depends mostly on river transport and convoys require armed escorts, which are in short supply.

Bangladesh has contributed a riverine unit from its navy, but it is only now being deployed, the source said, and may vessels on dry docks.

More helicopters and aircraft suitable for operating there are needed.

Peacekeepers’ movements are also restricted by the South Sudan government, the source said. Often, when they are cleared by the government, they also have to coordinate with opposition forces to ensure they are not attacked, the source said. But they do come under sporadic attacks.

Mukerji pointed out to he Security Council president in a letter last Friday that a camp at Melut in Upper Nile state ran out of water and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army was not allowing the peacekeepers to fetch water from the river.

-IANS

Next Story

Know About how Counties in South Sudan Battle Starvation and Floods

Starvation Stalks Counties in South Sudan Cut Off by Floods, Insecurity

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South Sudan Starving
A woman struggles to roast sorghum for food at Naipuru camp for internal displaced persons in Jebel Boma County, South Sudan. VOA

By John Tanza

In many homes around Jebel Boma County, dinner consists of bitter-tasting leaves that can be picked off the bushes outside. The leaves are neither filling nor nutritious, but in South Sudan’s Jebel Boma and Pochalla counties, there’s not much else to eat.

Through a combination of ruinous floods, a lack of decent roads and widespread insecurity, the two counties in the Upper Nile region, near the border with Ethiopia, have been effectively cut off from the rest of South Sudan and a reliable food supply.

This reporter visited the area during the last week of December and witnessed thousands of families who have no food and are surviving mainly on leaves or seeds distributed by aid agencies.

The governor of Boma state, David Yau Yau, told VOA’s South Sudan In Focus that he has been waiting to meet President Salva Kiir to discuss the dire humanitarian conditions in Boma state. Yau Yau says aid agencies should intervene to save lives of families who are starving.

South Sudan Starving
A hungry baby and her mother at Niapuru camp for internal displaced persons in Jebel Boma County, South Sudan. VOA

‘’We knew the people are going to starve unless there are serious humanitarian interventions. We are opening our mouths more louder to be heard so that something is done for the people of Boma state. Otherwise, this looming starvation is imminent,” Yau Yau said during an interview in Juba.

The commissioner of Jebel Boma says if aid agencies wait too long to intervene, some people will die. Longony Alston says the floods that hit the area in September washed away crops and destroyed food storage for local farmers, exposing 58,000 families to starvation.

‘’All these 58,000 are suffering. In fact, some of the people went to Ethiopia during clashes [in 2013] and some of them came back [and] are facing this hunger in Jebel Boma,” he said.

Food Insecurity

South Sudan counties
Pochalla county lawmaker Munira Abdalwab, right, chats with residents of Pochalla town, South Sudan. VOA

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) released in September 2019 estimated 5.35 million people in South Sudan — more than half the population — are in a state of food insecurity.

The situation has been bad since the start of South Sudan’s civil war in December 2013. Fighting has died down since a September 2018 peace agreement but not stopped.

Kiir’s envoy to Boma state, Akot Lual Arech, said the situation in several parts of the state is exacerbated by intercommunal violence that prevents the aid agencies from delivering services.

‘’There [are] no roads in the area and accessibility is very difficult. The problem is not only in Kachipo and Jie areas. If you go to Maban or Nasir, you will feel bad. It is because of the war that is taking place now. War and development cannot go together,” he said.

Arech says aid agencies have abandoned several villages in Boma state. “They see the window that we are fighting each other. So they don’t really, they don’t care. They will do whatever they desire to do,” he said.

The local chiefs and residents of Jebel Boma County say it is the government of South Sudan that has forgotten them. Nakou Lokine, a traditional chief in Naoyapuru village, said there is no health center in his village.

“We have no hospital here in Boma and when someone gets sick here in Boma, then we have to wait until a plane comes from Juba. Then the patient is taken to Juba. You can even see the children with your eyes; they are really suffering from sickness,” he said through an interpreter.

Residents of Pachalla County on the border with Ethiopia are also experiencing serious food insecurity. This reporter visited Pochalla county headquarters in December and saw deserted residential areas.

South Sudan counties
Families collecting wild bitter leaves for food in Boma County, South Sudan. VOA

Munira Abdalwab, the member of parliament representing Pochalla in the transitional national assembly in Juba, said there is a lack of government services in search of clean drinking water, health services, education and security, in addition to food.

Traders in both Pochalla and Boma County have run out of stock in their shops because of poor conditions on roads connecting the two counties with Ethiopia and Juba.

Patrick Ochum Gilo was once a successful businessman in Pochalla. He says the exchange rate of a dollar to South Sudan pounds shot up, and that prevented him from importing goods from Ethiopia.

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‘’I used to bring [import] everything. I had soap, sugar and other basic commodities. I also run a restaurant that had all kinds of food. The problem started when U.S. dollar became scarce and we have to buy goods from Ethiopia, and the cost of transportation from Gambella [Ethiopia] is very high.’’

The scarcity is now affecting Boma National Park, a protected area in eastern South Sudan near the Ethiopian border. Armed civilians and military personnel in Boma and Pochalla depend on game meat from the park for food. Alston says he has found it difficult to arrest poachers, because there is no food in the markets and none has come from the World Food Program or other agencies. (VOA)