“Unresolved issues” in peace process could jeopardize elections in South Sudan
"I think we all agree the pace of implementation of the peace agreement has been far too slow and we still have many issues unresolved,” said the UN’s top envoy in South Sudan, David Shearer, at a press briefing in Juba.
“My real worry is that if we are not carefully constructing a peace process which has the agreement of all sides, some of the positivity and optimism that we saw when the peace deal was signed is going to diminish and people are going to get frustrated.”
The Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan also expressed concern about a recent surge in intercommunal violence across Warrap, Maban and parts of Jonglei which has led to many lives being lost and people being forced to abandon their homes as they fled their villages in fear.
UNMISS peacekeepers have proactively increased their patrols and set up temporary bases in potential hotspots. While this has reduced tensions in large parts of the affected areas, the peacekeeping mission is struggling to get access to certain key locations where communities are in dire need of protection.
“Our efforts to reach Romich in Warrap, for example, have been continually blocked on the ground. In fact, we have a patrol on its way there now that has been blocked for the past five days,” revealed the SRSG.
While the mission will be deploying its Blue Berets to seven temporary operating bases across the country this week, the SRSG warned that without renewed momentum in implementing the peace agreement, the world’s newest country, which is already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing economic crisis, is in danger of slipping back into a cycle of violence, which would, in turn, derail the possibility of elections being held on time.
For its part, UNMISS continues to do everything within its capacity to bolster national-led peace efforts. “We are following up on the Jonglei conference that the government hosted. We supported that process by transporting people from Jonglei to Juba for the discussions. We are also meeting with people on the ground to look at the root causes of that conflict. We are doing that by bringing local youth and church leaders together for reconciliation and working on the return of abducted women and children to their homes,” stated the SRSG.
David Shearer also highlighted the peacekeeping mission’s ongoing work to rehabilitate existing infrastructure. Currently, UNMISS engineers are patching up some 3,200 kilometers of roads, including opening the Bor to Pibor road that will help enhance peace between Murle, Dinka and Nuer communities. Work has also started on a road that will link the Sudan border to Bentiu then south to Rumbek, to increase trade and prosperity for people living in isolated areas in Unity state.
“Improving roads boosts connections and communication between regions; it increases trade and jobs but, most significantly, creates opportunities to reconcile and build peace,” explained SRSG Shearer. “Our engineering work is doing as much to promote peace as a lot of the reconciliation efforts because they build that infrastructure and network between people,” he added.
Another area that the SRSG focused on was urging the distribution of exam papers to children in some IO areas who may miss out because of insecurity. “It’s as important as any peace deal that children have the best chance in life,” he averred, while reiterating the mission’s readiness to provide any assistance required in this regard. “We see this as a critical operation, and we have offered any support we can provide.”
Additionally, the SRSG updated media on progress with transitioning UN Protection Sites into conventional camps for internally displaced people under the sovereign control of the government. The transition has been completed in Bor, Wau and Juba, while Malakal and Bentiu are yet to be re-designated.
“In Bentiu, transition discussions are well advanced. We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Governor and are working closely with local security forces from all sides, including a joint police force – the first in the country – and the displaced community,” stated Mr Shearer, while adding that Malakal would need some more time to transition since only recently has a state Governor been appointed.