Sheltering civilians from conflict in Jonglei

28 Mar 2013

Sheltering civilians from conflict in Jonglei

28 March 2013 - As attacks from armed militia groups in Jonglei State have intensified in recent months, UNMISS bases in Pibor and Gumuruk have sheltered thousands of civilians.

On 21 March, UNMISS received 1,100 civilians at its compound in Gumuruk, Pibor County, following a clash between the SPLA and a militia group said to be loyal to David Yau Yau, which killed one civilian, UNMISS Protection of Civilians Advisor Anita Mongane said today in the capital Bor.

Another shooting occurred outside Pibor on 4 March, when a militia group ambushed an SPLA convoy, said Ms. Mongane. UNMISS received about 900 civilians into its bases until they left on 11 March after calm had returned to the area.

Fighting had also broken out between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Kuburin armed group (a breakaway Yau Yau faction) on 27 January, she said, leaving seven civilians dead and displacing 3,000 others, who also fled to UN facilities.

About 400 civilians who had stayed in their dwellings during the shoot-out were trapped, Ms. Mongane said. Stepping in, UNMISS helped ferry them and members of 24 non-governmental organizations in UN vehicles to its compound.

Five civilians who sustained serious injuries during the cross-fire of that incident received treatment from UNMISS doctors at the facilities, she said.

About 550 were hosted at UNMISS facilities when armed militia groups alleged to be David Yau Yau loyalists attacked Pibor on 25 and 26 October last year, leaving one person dead.

This brought the total number of civilians UNMISS had sheltered in its bases since October 2012 to 5,950 people.

While armed group conflicts had intensified, only a few cattle raids had been reported in 2013, and no inter-communal violence or abduction of women and children, said Ms. Mongane.

She largely attributed this to UNMISS' increased presence in the state, its regular land and air patrols and establishment of a permanent mission presence in Pibor.

UN Police had been assisting South Sudan National Police Service (SSNPS) to better maintain law and order within its ranks while protecting civilians and instill confidence in citizens, said James Horne, UN Police (UNPOL) Reform Coordinator for Jonglei.

"The public wants to see the SSPS behaving well, not badly," Mr. Horne said. "They want to see them making good choices, not bad choices."

UNPOL's advisory role to SSNPS had led to deployment of 900 auxiliary police throughout the state to help boost SSNPS' capacity to protect civilians, he noted.

But accessibility was a major drawback, according to UNMISS Jonglei State Coordinator Ibrahima Ndiaye. "With the relatively flat landscape of the state, many protection activities (will) ... come to an end as the rains begin, flooding and blocking many roads."

"Moving quickly implies getting vehicles on the road quickly," Mr. Horne said. "Roads are either not there or are very difficult to travel on."

In addition, the utter absence of state authorities, especially police posts, in many counties made it difficult to keep and maintain peace, Mr. Ndiaye said.

He noted that state security was not in UNMISS hands. "It is the role of the state government to protect its citizens. We only intervene when the state is unable to give the support it is supposed to give."

Protection Advisor Mongane said the SPLA was tasked with protecting the country, rather than civilians, from conflicts. "But since the police are too few ... the SPLA are doing double work, straining their efforts."

UNMISS would work within its capabilities to protect civilians in the state, said Mr. Ndiaye. The mission had a permanent troop presence in Pibor and Bor counties, as well as temporary bases at Yuai Payam of Uror County and at Gumuruk.

The State Coordinator dismissed as rumour the claim that the mission was partisan. Civilians would not seek shelter at UN facilities if they believed UNMISS sided with one group or another, he said.