Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix Press Conference - Juba
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix: Thank you very much, and good afternoon all. I would like, first of all, to thank you for being here.
As explained, I spent three days in South Sudan. This was an opportunity to meet with His Excellency the President of the Republic as well as the First Vice-President and members of the Government of South Sudan. It was also an opportunity to meet with the UNMISS team – the head of UNMISS, David Shearer, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, the senior leadership and the entire team of UNMISS. Yesterday, I was visiting Malakal, meeting with local authorities but also with the UNMISS team as well as representatives of UN agencies both on the humanitarian as well as on the development side.
I would like to seize this opportunity to pay tribute to UNMISS – to the SRSG and the whole UNMISS team; they are doing a tremendous job, they are helping people every single day, saving lives and operating in a difficult environment; they are really making a difference on the ground. So, really, my heartfelt tribute to the team.
I would like to thank the authorities in South Sudan for having received me and for their support in this visit. These meetings were an opportunity for me to address a number of issues with my interlocutors with His Excellency the President and other senior leaders. We addressed the political process, the different initiatives that are ongoing and that are all, in their own way, contributing to advancing the cause of bringing back peace and stability in South Sudan.
We discussed the IGAD initiative towards the revitalization of the peace agreement and clearly it is a very important and positive thing that the countries in the region are being more engaged in helping South Sudan return to peace. As you know, the UN has welcomed and supported this new engagement by the IGAD and looks forward to that process moving forward.
We also discussed the efforts that are being made by the countries in the region, particularly Uganda, trying to help reunite the SPLM. There again, this is of course a positive thing to help stakeholders and parties to sit round the table and dialogue and resolve their issues. Certainly, this is a positive development towards the peace effort.
I also had the pleasure to, not only discuss the National Dialogue with South Sudanese authorities, but also to have a meeting with the Co-Chair of the National Dialogue and his colleagues. We were briefed about the progress made in that process; it is a process that can be a helpful instrument in bringing together stakeholders and helping them resolve their differences especially at the local level. As you know, the UN has been providing some support in terms of some training to the National Dialogue. I told my interlocutors that we would continue to follow this process very, very closely and that we certainly hope that the process would be a very useful tool in helping those efforts to achieve peace. The efficiency and the effectiveness of that process will be enhanced; it should be as inclusive as possible. We certainly look forward to efforts in that direction.
The UN, as I said, will continue to follow that process very closely and as it moves forward, this South Sudanese-led process, we will see and assess to what extent we can possibly continue and even enhance our support to the National Dialogue.
As I said, all these initiatives although different in nature complement each other. They all point to the same direction; they are all aimed at the same objective that is to see the return of peace and stability in South Sudan. We will therefore welcome further progress in that direction.
We also discussed the country’s security situation. We expressed concern that despite the unilateral ceasefire that was decided by the authorities, fighting continues in different areas of the country. It is a matter of concern because the continuation of fighting is certainly an obstacle to further progress in the political track. It is also a matter of concern because this fighting obviously has a serious impact on populations and on our efforts to bring humanitarian assistance to people. We therefore call on all parties to stop the fighting and to do all they can to ensure that we have a cessation of this fighting in South Sudan.
We also discussed the question of the Regional Protection Force (RPF). The deployment of the RPF, as you know, is ongoing. It has been slower than all of us would have hoped for but things are now accelerating which is good thing. A number of units are now deployed here in Juba. A number of other units will be deploying soon in the coming months. We are making every possible effort to expedite that process and we are encouraging Troop Contributing Countries also to do their best to have as rapid a deployment as possible and, certainly, we will need the support and cooperation of the South Sudanese Government to help in expediting the procedures that are needed to operationalize the deployment of the RPF. It’s teamwork, a point well made by one of the ministers with whom I met; everyone has his own share of responsibility, I think, in working together to achieve that deployment.
We also underlined that once deployed, the RPF will free up some capacity of UNMISS that is currently deployed in Juba. This capacity we will be able to use to help stabilize other areas in South Sudan. I was appraised of an incident that occurred on the 2nd of August on the Nimule-Juba road where a convoy was ambushed by attackers and as a result of that four civilians were killed and one of our colleagues was injured; the driver of one of the vehicles was also killed. We were sad about that incident and we express our condolences to the families of those who died. This is an example where with the deployment of the RPF, those capacities that are currently deployed in Juba could be used to help secure these areas, these roads, so that we minimize the risk of these incidents and help improve the level of security.
Lastly, the humanitarian situation is of concern because the situation remains quite serious. The UN as a whole, UNMISS and the agencies and those who work with them, are doing their best to help as many people as possible and they are doing it in very difficult situations – very difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. As you know, quite a significant number of humanitarian workers have either been injured or even lost their lives last year while trying to help the population. The UN is acting impartially in helping everyone in South Sudan, irrespective of their ethnic or religious or any other affiliations. I really appreciate that this impartiality was recognized by the leadership during my meetings with them. So we are determined to continue doing our best to help the population.
My visit to Malakal was quite informative on the efforts that have been made to support the population there – the IDPs but also the population as a whole again, irrespective of their affiliations or anything else.
We hada good meeting with local authorities in Malakal and we agreed we should continue together in this cooperation in order to help the return of stability and also generate better opportunities for the populations there. Of course, we look forward to cooperation with the South Sudanese government to help us in this necessary effort to help the population in getting access to humanitarian relief.
With this I will stop. Thank you very much for your attention and I will now take your questions.
Questions & Answers:
Community Radio: In your discussions with the government, you said that peace would not move forward if the war is not stopped. What would make the war to stop?
My second question is about the RPF – the deployment of the Regional Protection Force. People in this country have been waiting for the deployment. What is causing the delay and when will the RPF be here?
USG Lacroix: Thank you very much. I cannot see a situation where the cessation of fighting would not help efforts for peace and also would not help the population. This is the spirit in which I called on all the parties to do their best so that the fighting would stop in this country.
As far as the RPF is concerned, you are right there were delays. But what is important is to look ahead. Now, as I said, it is moving forward. It is moving forward at a faster pace and we are gratified by this evolution.
The RPF deployment as per the mandate given to it by the Security Council is an integral part of UNMISS – it is not a different force, it is part of UNMISS – but it has a mandate that is specific to Juba. It is important to underline, as I said previously, we already have some substantial capacity deployed here in Juba and that we would be able to use those capacities elsewhere to the benefit of stability and security in South Sudan. We will be working with the Government to determine where these units and these capacities can be of help.
As far as the RPF is concerned, we hope that the RPF will help increase the climate of confidence here in Juba but, also very importantly, within the international community. We certainly look forward to the international community having enhanced confidence in the security of South Sudan. We look forward to international investors considering coming or returning to South Sudan and we certainly hope that the RPF’s presence in Juba would help. We do recognize that the security situation in Juba has certainly improved as compared to last year. This is obviously something that has to be factored in but certainly, this force can help in creating an enhanced confidence for this country.
I should add that when the RPF is deployed, we will regularly review the the security situation in Juba and the overall situation in South Sudan. We will see whether later down the road there are reasons to recommend some adjustment in the mandate. We are not there yet. At the moment we are focusing on expediting the deployment of the RPF.
VOA: You said that after meeting some of the Government leaders, you also went up to Malakal. And as you said, fighting is continuing in other parts of the country and this has led to a number of human rights abuses – people have been displaced, there is shelling and people are not getting food. I am wondering whether you have noted this as a concern. I would also like to understand what message or what have you been sharing with them towards stopping these rights abuses?
Can you also try to let us know how many of the RPF have been deployed so far?
USG Lacroix: Thank you very much. As I was telling you, I certainly expressed concern about the fighting and about the consequences of fighting on the population. I did express my concerns and again, I expressed hope and called on all the parties to do all they can to rein in the fighting.
On the RPF deployment, we have currently achieved deployment of units from Nepal and Bangladesh. 150 men, which is the entire company from Nepal … I think it is the Rapid Reaction of High Readiness Company, which is the same. The Bangladeshi company, which is an engineering company, is partially deployed and we
are in the process of expediting the deployment of a full battalion of the Rwandan forces. They haven’t arrived yet but they are next in line to deploy parallel to the completion of the deployment of the engineering unit from Bangladesh. As I said, we are working very hard with Troop Contributing Countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and others in order to also see the deployment of the RPF as soon as possible. It could be a question of months hopefully, if everything goes well.
Catholic Radio Network: One of our networks in Wau has reported that about 295 have been displaced recently from Bisselia, Bazia and Kpile counties. Most of them are children and women who are evacuating their places all the way to the UN compound in Wau town. What that means is that the UN can not reach to their counties. They urged humanitarian agencies to visit them since they are feeding on tree roots and leaves. The Commissioner of Bisselia County also reports that an ambush happened to them on the 28th of last month. He says the security situation was calm and the ambush happened in the middle of the road. What action can UNMISS take to reach people in those counties who take risks traveling from the village to the town. Does that mean UNMISS only concentrates on the towns?
USG Lacroix: I will answer and maybe SRSG David Shearer will add some thoughtsbecause obviously these are very specific questions concerning one particular area.
What I can tell you is that, yes, UNMISS has relatively substantial means but by definition, it cannot be deployed everywhere. What we can do is try our best to deploy, to reach out where we learn that populations are in urgent need. I will just cite a recent example of the town of Aburoc where we had a group of people who were in desperate need of food and water and were helpless and the UN, UNMISS, did a tremendous job to deploy quite rapidly so that in a couple of days the population that didn’t have access even to water could be rescued. Hundreds of lives were saved. This is an example of what we can do.
On the specific case of Wau, maybe I would ask David to talk about that.
SRSG David Shearer: Just very briefly, as the Under-Secretary-General just said, as much as possible we try to get out to the towns. Actually the whole rationale of UNMISS of being robust, nimble and proactive and trying to get to places before there are problems. But in Wau, as you know, there have been large numbers of people coming into Wau town, coming into our camps, taking refuge into the Catholic church that has done a remarkable job in housing many of these people as well. We will do our best to try to get out of town to these different places. What we don’t want to see is people coming into town and not being able to continue their own livelihoods.
So as much as possible, the focus over the last few weeks in UNMISS is to push out as much as we possibly could.
Xinhua: You did mention that you engaged the leadership of the country regarding the efforts of the IGAD on the South Sudan peace process. But recently, this particular body did say that they are going to organize a forum for the revitalization of the peace process but they are going to exclude one key figure in South Sudan, that is the former First Vice President Riek Machar from the process. As the United Nations, what do you think of that? Don’t you think that this decision from the IGAD will affect the outcome of this forum?
My second question is that since this is your first visit to South Sudan as the UN peacekeeping chief and you have visited several places like Malakal. In your observation and according to what you have seen, what key message do you have for the leadership of this country and the people of South Sudan, given the current suffering that is ongoing?
USG Lacroix: Thank you very much. As I said, it is a positive thing to see that the IGAD is being more engaged in bringing peace and stability in South Sudan. It is the primary responsibility of South Sudanese themselves but they obviously need support. The UN is supporting, the countries in the region, the AU is supporting this IGAD initiative which is very important.
It is not for me to tell IGAD how to conduct this initiative and whom to invite. IGAD is IGAD, we support the initiative but certainly, it is for them to determine how best that initiative should be moved forward. I know there is very close coordination with the leadership of South Sudan and other stakeholders. We are supporting that initiative and we look forward to see its positive evolution.
On the key messages, the UN is determined to help South Sudan, to help its population, to help the return of peace and stability to South Sudan. This is why UNMISS is deployed here; this is why we have UN agencies. It is primarily, of course, for the South Sudanese themselves to meet the process. We are here to help. We are doing our level best to support in terms of the security arrangements, the political process as well as supporting the population. We are doing it impartially – as I said, we are helping the population, all South Sudanese, irrespective of the ethnic, or religious or any other affiliation. That is what we are here for.
I think that would be the key message. Obviously, you need to incorporate and to be supported in our efforts by the South Sudanese people and the South Sudanese authorities. This is why we have a regular dialogue with the leadership in South Sudan and this is why I came to continue that line of dialogue with the President and other senior leaders.
I think it is a good effort. Also from the IGAD and the AU and also the partners. Hopefully we will be able to see further progress in South Sudan and ease the very serious humanitarian situation.
Eye Radio: A Human Rights Watch released a report this week documenting a series of human rights violations in Kajo-Keji Yei River State and Imatong State and are therefore calling on the UN, the EU and the US to impose sanctions on the Government of South Sudan and also to sanction nine leaders from the Government and opposition sides. What is the response of the UN to that?
Secondly, you said the RPF will minimize insecurity on the roads like the Nimule-Juba road. I was wondering because what I know is that the mandate of the RPF is to protect key installations in Juba and the airport. I was wondering how that is possible?
You said fighting is continuing in some parts of the country. In which areas specifically?
USG Lacroix: On the RPF, the RPF is part of UNMISS and not a separate force. What I said is that we already have here in Juba units that are deployed. When the RPF units are deployed then we will be able to use these units that are currently here, that are already deployed in Juba, to help secure other areas. We will do it in coordination with Government. As I said, these units could then be used for the protection of roads, these regions that are in need of additional resources.
We are calling on all to respect human rights and to adhere to its values. Human rights is one of the key pillars of the UN so this is a very important message to all in South Sudan as well as anywhere where we have peacekeeping operations.
Neither UNMISS nor the humanitarian agencies are in the business of sanctioning. We are here to help the South Sudanese.