UNMISS embarks on 5-day patrol to conflict-affected areas near Pajok (including Spokesperson audio interview)
(Scroll down to listen to a Radio Miraya interview with UNMISS Spokesperson Daniel Dickinson on the same topic)
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has dispatched an integrated patrol to the town of Pajok and surrounding areas in Imatong State in response to heavy fighting that recently took place in the region. The fighting, which broke out on 3 April, is reported to have claimed the lives of an unconfirmed number of civilians.
A patrol convoy - consisting of 14 vehicles transporting over 50 Rwandan peacekeepers, 20 UN officials, numerous members of the Imatong State assembly, and civil society representatives - departed Torit early Tuesday morning. The patrol was dispatched to assess the current situation in the conflict-affected region.
"Reports coming from the area have varied in terms of how many civilians are affected and their urgent needs. The aim of this mission is to help facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance, evaluate the realities on the ground, and provide a protective presence to encourage civilians to return to their homes," said Mary Cummins, head of the UNMISS field office in Torit.
An unverified number of civilians were caught in the crossfire in early April when the SPLA clashed with opposition forces, SPLA-IO, in the town of Pajok. As a result, civilians fled by the thousands seeking refuge in nearby villages or crossing the border into Uganda.
Upon its arrival in Pajok late Tuesday afternoon, the convoy was welcomed by a host of county and SPLA officials.
Abdul Kamara, Civil Affairs Officer for UNMISS, briefed officials on the plans for the five-day mission and asked for their cooperation.
"We are here to further assess the situation in Pajok and surrounding areas," he said in a meeting that included SPLA Colonel Kuol of Ayachi county, Ayachi county commissioner Onek Benson, and Imatong State minister of finance John Ochan.
Col. Kuol reported that only three civilians had lost their lives during the local conflict, a number that is greatly contradicted by reports from various reputable news organizations.
Col. Kuol invited UNMISS and all actors present to perform an independent investigation into the matter. He also presented members of the convoy with a resolution drafted by the SPLA in cooperation with local community members. The document encourages civilians to return home and ensures they will be protected.
"All citizens are equal. The SPLA will protect all South Sudanese people," Col. Kuol stated.
Those displaced have called on UNMISS to establish a temporary operating base in Pajok as a means to provide them with the necessary reassurance to return to the region.
Further action will be determined following the integrated patrol’s complete assessment.
Radio Miraya interview with UNMISS Spokesperson Daniel Dickinson: