Final Media Briefing by SRSG Ellen Margrethe Loej: 28 November 2016
Shantal Persaud Acting Spokesperson: Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to the United Nations Press briefing, which today will be given by SRSG Ellen Margrethe Loej.
This may possibly be the final press briefing for Madam Loej in her capacity as a United Nations Special Representative for the Secretary General who has many years distinguished service as seasoned diplomat and has served as SRSG in two peacekeeping missions.
A strong believer in the goals of the UN, the SRSG was called from her retirement in 2014 at the special request of the UN Secretary General to head the Mission in South Sudan. Committed as she is, the SRSG came, and oversaw not only a unique complex nature of operations in South Sudan, but also during a chaotic period, less than a year into the conflict that erupted in the country in 2013.
During this time, the SRSG navigated the mission through its most significant change in the mandate, the first time in peacekeeping that a protection of civilians’ concept was operationalized.
Dedicated as she is, the SRSG, had in fact planned to retire at the end of her contract in August, but in the wake of the July Crisis, she chose to remain and steer the ship until the situation was stable.
We in the mission will NOT be happy to see her go, but she leaves us better off than when she came - a believer in the prospects for peace for South Sudan.
Good morning and welcome SRSG, we are honored to be to present at his final briefing to the media, and I’ll now pass the microphone over to you.
SRSG Loej – Thank you very much and thank you all for coming. I will be very brief because otherwise all of you will accuse me for repeating myself.
I had the opportunity on Friday to meet some of you at the goodbye function and I want to say that it has been an honor to serve not only the United Nation for these two years plus but also not least to serve the people of South Sudan.
We have not yet finished our job, we don’t have peace in South Sudan, we don’t have prosperity in South Sudan, but I think we all have to work for that. I am extremely moved by having learned so much about South Sudan, I am extremely impressed by the resilience of the South Sudanese people, I am extremely depressed that their hopes and aspiration at the time of independence has not yet been fulfilled, the conflict that erupted in December 2013 continues to make many South Sudanese homeless, internally displaced or refugees in neighboring countries and I am also worried about the threat to their security wherever they are and not least by the economic hardship they have to endure.
I urge all South Sudanese and especially the leaders of South Sudan to put the well-being of their people, including the the boys and girls. They all have to commit to South Sudan as I am always saying in the forefront of their action. They all have to commit to moving forward, to creating a prosperous future for the people of South Sudan. And it is possible because South Sudan is such a rich country in terms of resources and fertile land and when I am flying up country I am always surprised to see all that fertile land and there is not anything, it’s not being harvested, that you are not growing your own food.
You could feed yourself plenty and I hope peace will come to South Sudan and make it possible for the South Sudanese to take care of their families, to make a livelihood and fulfil their dreams and aspiration and not at least to see the country that they fought so much and suffered so much for to become independent, that they will see that country grow and prosper.
I also have one final message which I have been communicating wherever I have been across the country including when I went to Malakal after the incidents in February and that is South Sudan is a new nation, it’s a new country; I think each and every one of you has to unite in working towards to creating the national identity of this country.
As I said to the IDP’s in Malakal after the incidence in February, I thought you fought and fought for years for one independent South Sudan and not 64 independent countries. And what we have seen recently here in the Equatorias worries me deeply and I think it’s really very important that you all unite with the support of the international community including the UN but it has to be you the South Sudanese who sit down and build that national identity regardless of your ethnic affiliation.
I urge you to look at other countries in Africa like South Sudan composed of various ethnic groups who have managed to build up that national identity, that national unity; I can mention South Africa, Ghana and other many countries. Look at them, be inspired you are one South Sudanese, one people, you are all South Sudanese and my hope is that you will be able to live in peace and realize the great potential of this wonderful country.
I promise you that I will follow your news every day and I hope you will be able to communicate good news to me every morning in Denmark that ‘We are moving forward in South Sudan and not backwards”. It’s high time, Thank you.
Acting Spokesperson Shantal Persaud- Do we have any questions?
Associated Press (AP) - Thank you for having this press conference and thank you for your service. I wanted to ask a bit about the RPF force that was apparently agreed to without conditions on Friday. I am wondering if the UN agreed to the force and I if you could comment on the validity of the letter from the Minister of Cabinet Affairs Martin Lomuro on November 16 there was a note, that kind of lays out the conditions of the RPF. So I am wondering if you could talk about the conditions and what those details are and the specifics if you have agreed to the force.
SRSG Loej- Let me first say that the Security Council in resolution 2304 authorized the establishment of the RPF and outlined the troop level maximum 4000 and the function of the Regional Protection Force namely to promote security of Juba and they outlined three main tasks; the key roads in and out of Juba, the key installation and facilities and to undertake those tasks in collaboration with the government.
So your question as to whether the UN has agreed to the RPF is not really relevant. The Security Council has authorized the Regional Protection Force and we as a mission have tried to work out the details including in consultation with the government. As for the letter from the Minister of Cabinet Affairs to the Security Council on November 16, as I said when I briefed the council on the 17th, we hadn’t seen it before, it was circulated and things in that letter we do not agree with, which we have communicated to the honorable minister, as I understand the Cabinet met on Friday and I’m basing myself not only on the report from the Spokesperson but after the meeting after the Cabinet but also from a briefing that was, the honorable Minister of Cabinet held afterwards with the UN and the whole diplomatic community, I understand the cabinet on Friday decided to accept the deployment of the RPF without conditions.
I hope to get that in writing, I hope to get a statement from the government in writing which I have been promised. So we at least will move to continue ahead with the plan for the arrival of the RPF in the hope that it can contribute to increasing the security for the people of Juba.
Eye Radio – Have they agreed on the countries from where the troops will be coming? And what sort of arms will they be coming with?
SRSG Loej – I can’t really give the details since I don’t have the answers in writing from the government but as I understand from the decision of the Cabinet on Friday, it’s unconditional approval, you know the plan was for the RPF for the infantry to be composed of troops from Ethiopia, Rwanda and Kenya and that was earlier on approved by the government, now we have a slight problem as to whether Kenya will participate or not. As you know, Kenya is withdrawing the battalion they have to the mission and its present configuration, the battalion that has been stationed in western part of the country in Wau, Kawajok and Aweil, so that I don’t know yet and then apart from those infantry battalions, the plan was to have enablers that would come from other countries. But I needed in writing before I can give you a precise answer.
Andalou Agency – My question is since it’s going to be the last conference from the SRSG, what do you think were your major challenges since you came to South Sudan and what were the worst moments that you regret that you would say to the whole of South Sudan before you leave?
SRSG Loej -There have been plenty of challenges, those on the external and internal front. Let me go to the external front first. Of course the challenge has been that there’s no peace in South Sudan, the challenge has been we have had difficulties in moving around, those from the government side and IO side.
The challenge has been that the government thought that we are too close to the IO at the height of the fighting. So as I say I’ve been slapped right left and center. But in reality what we have tried to do is to be impartial in the conflict and to urge for peace to return to South Sudan.
It has also been challenging to deal with the protection of civilians site while I am very very happy that by opening the gates at the height of the conflict lives were saved, but the longer the conflict persisted and people are staying in these sites, we have also seen conflict arises within the sites and you know the challenges we had with the situation in Malakal, so there’s been many challenges.
July was another challenge where UN was basically caught in cross fire and had difficulties in providing the necessary protection for those in need; unfortunately some of the PoC sites, people have also tried to politicize them and that’s why I have spent a lot of time interacting with community leaders and others to underline the civilian character of those sites, that it should not be a base for a political activity, criminal activity or let alone military activity.
So there has been many challenges as you know, and as I say I am deeply touched by the resilience of the South Sudanese people, they are really the ones that we should think about, that we should work even harder to make sure that peace is established in this country because they are suffering in a way that I can hardly describe.
I think, and I will repeat myself it is time for the guns to be silent and really silent so that the aspiration of the people of South Sudan can be fulfilled, so that the boys and girls can go to school and pursue their aspirations.
Radio Bakhita - Since the July incidents, the security situation in the country is so tense and many analysts have been saying that probably it may go to genocide or something like that, so has the UN put forward any approach in order to prevent genocide from happening in South Sudan?
SRSG Loej Thank you very much, I totally agree with you that the security situation is not very good and unfortunately as we speak we are seeing a very fragile security situation in the Equatorias.
I recently went to Yambio and to Torit and it was heart-breaking to hear how in Torit they were not able to take care of their farms, it used to be the bread basket of South Sudan and they have food insecurity due to insecurity, and many people from Eastern Equatoria have taken refuge in Uganda. We need peace in this country and we need to reconcile among the South Sudanese.
I used to say when I came two years ago, when the fighting was primarily focused in Upper Nile… I used to give the example that it was important that the international community while trying to meet the humanitarian needs of the South Sudanese people should also not forget to assist on some of the development needs. I used to picture “why should the children of Western Equatoria pay the price for fighting in Upper Nile and not be able to go to school”.
My advice is that you South Sudanese really work hard on reconciling among yourselves, that you remind yourselves on a daily basis that all the suffering you went through during the independence war was to get ONE independent South Sudan. You are South Sudanese regardless of your ethnic affiliation.
I underline that the work has to be done by you, because a white woman from Europe like me cannot come and enforce that feeling of Nation [inaudible], I can come and assist and facilitate, and our colleagues in the Mission are doing a lot in trying to facilitate meetings between various groups who had arguments with one another and they are doing it all over the country and I hope we can continue to do so and support religious leaders, traditional chiefs, civil society organisations of South Sudan.
I really say that you focus on that at the end and it has to be dealt from the political level but also from the community level. You have to learn to live with one another regardless of your ethnic affiliation and that it is in your common interest to promote peace and prosperity in South Sudan and you have so many resources.
DPA News Agency- Thank you for your years of service in South Sudan. There are so many reports and analysis saying that South Sudan is on the verge of collapse and that is almost a failed state. Can you comment on that? And what are you going to tell to the people that don’t know about South Sudan in Europe? What message would you give to the UN concerning the shifting of fighting from one region to another in South Sudan?
SRSG Loej - I don’t want to put labels on South Sudan. The main problem is the suffering on the South Sudanese people, you have troubles in South Sudan, there is insecurity, fighting in various parts of the country, and the economy is in very bad shape. Something has to be done in order to turn that around and to start moving forward and first and foremost the guns have to be silent. You have to urge your politicians not to continue arguing but to promote peace, implement the peace agreement so that the resources of South Sudan can be fully utilised for the benefit of the people. I know that it will not happen overnight, I have not given up on South Sudan. You cannot work in South Sudan as I have done for the last two years-plus without being hopeful and I’m saying to my colleagues over and over again: “yes, when we look at the news in the morning it might be depressing, if you go on a patrol or visit and monitor human rights it might be depressing, but hang on to every little glimmer of hope and argue for that hope to expand because we are here to improve the lives of the people of South Sudan.” What will I say about South Sudan in Europe? First and foremost, I will tell everybody who will listen to me: “do not give up on South Sudan.” The people of South Sudan deserve the focus of the international community. You might be tired of the politicians of this country who have inflicted this conflict on the people of South Sudan but engage with them, try to tell them that the peace agreement has to be implemented. We cannot give up on South Sudan. The humanitarian needs are high in South Sudan but it’s not the only country in the world where there are dire humanitarian needs. We have to underline over and over again that we have to assist the people of South Sudan to feed themselves and to be able to develop their country. My message will be: “do not forget, do not give up on South Sudan.” The potential is there and I have the trust in the people of South Sudan.
Associated Press (AP )- When the UN genocide advisor came he highlighted Yei as having a particular risk of a mass outbreak of violence or genocide, I’m wondering why we haven’t seen a temporary base for UN peacekeepers in Yei, the local community is calling for it, there have been discussions inside the UN Mission and I’m wondering why we haven’t seen it?
SRSG Loej - Well, you might think that we have a lot of troops in South Sudan but we can’t have them all over, and I was telling you, the Kenyan battalion is right now being pulled out of the Mission and we have to fill the gap from them and we haven’t had a substitute for them yet.
We also have to use military resources in protecting the Protection of Civilians sites and so on. But I can assure you regardless whether we have a forward operating base in Yei or not… We said that that would be the next place when we have the resources to have a forward operating base but I don’t know when it will be possible. Instead we are trying to monitor the situation with Long Duration Patrols, I believe we have had two Long Duration Patrols to Yei already, and we have one Integrated Patrol (military and civilians) that has left for Yei this morning and will stay there this whole week. That’s the way we are trying to monitor the situation.
When I went around the country to say goodbye, there were many duty stations… I came to Torit as I mentioned in Eastern Equatoria, in Yambio in Western Equatoria and my people everywhere where saying: “can’t we have more troops? Can’t we have more troops?” – South Sudan is a big country and we cannot have a soldier behind each and every South Sudanese, so we have to find an [inaudible] way of monitoring the situation.
Eye Radio- You mentioned something already about preparations being underway for the reception of the RPF [Regional Protection Force], how soon we should expect them?
SRSG Loej - I cannot give you a deadline; we have been in discussions with the government… the central government and also the government of Jubek state for instance; we need more land, we have to go visit some plots with them so see how they are and how quick they can be prepared, how quick the TCCs [Troop Contributing Countries] have the equipment… please, I will not give you a date or a deadline because then my successor will be held accountable if that deadline doesn’t materialise, but I promise you that we will work on it as fast as we can.
Acting Spokesperson - Thank you very much SRSG.
SRSG Loej Thank you and all the best to all of you, and please do whatever you can to ensure peace in South Sudan and that I will get every morning a positive wake up when I check the South Sudanese news… But tell me the true story!