UN blasts South Sudan violence, calls rival leaders to control forces

Riek Machar Press Conference

Riek Machar Press Conference

The UN Security Council strongly condemned the renewed violence in South Sudan and called on rival leaders President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar to control their forces in a statement unanimously passed after a Sunday meeting.

“The members of the Council condemned in the strongest terms all attacks and provocations against civilians and the United Nations. They emphasised the need for United Nations [civilian protection] sites and United Nations personnel to remain secure,” Japan’s ambassador to the UN Koro Bessho revealed during a press conference shortly after the end of a three-hour closed-door emergency session on the latest crisis.

Japan currently holds the presidency of the 15-member UN Security Council.

The statement also called on Kiir and Machar to “genuinely commit themselves to the full and immediate implementation of the peace agreement, including the permanent ceasefire and redeployment of military forces from Juba”.

The emergency session in New York came as a fresh outbreak of violence in and around the capital, Juba, threatens to plunge the world’s newest nation back into a full-blown civil war.

The latest violence came just three months after Machar returned to South Sudan from exile under the terms of a peace deal, to take up his old post as vice president under his foe, Kiir.

The US State Department said it was ordering all non-essential personnel out of the country, and condemned reported attacks on civilian sites in the latest bout of violence, which left at least 150 soldiers dead on both sides. Local media gave a higher toll of around 270.

Washington pressed “both leaders and their political allies and commanders to immediately restrain their forces from further fighting, return them to barracks and prevent additional violence and bloodshed”, State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

“The United States is determined to ensure appropriate measures are taken to hold accountable those responsible for continuing fighting and violations of international humanitarian law, including attacks on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and targeting of civilians.”

Chinese UN peacekeeper killed in shelling

Fighting and gunfire erupted in Juba Monday, just days after the country marked its fifth anniversary of independence. The latest fighting is a fresh blow to the peace deal that has failed to end the civil war that broke out in December 2013 when Kiir accused his sacked deputy, Machar, of plotting a coup.

The two leaders, who fought each other in a two-year civil war that started in late 2013, had made a joint call for calm after clashes between rival factions broke out late on Thursday.

A Chinese UN peacekeeper was killed and several Chinese and Rwandan peacekeepers were injured, according to Japan’s ambassador Bessho.

The Chinese peacekeeper was killed and six others were injured when the armoured vehicle in which they were travelling was shelled.

The UN mission said UN compounds in Juba had been hit by small arms and heavy weapons fire.

“The Security Council expressed their readiness to consider enhancing UNMISS to better ensure that UNMISS and the international community can prevent and respond to violence in South Sudan,” Bessho told reporters.

He said the 15-member council encouraged countries in the region to prepare to send additional troops in the event the Security Council decides to boost the nearly 13,500-strong UN force. The council also stressed the need for peacekeepers to use all means necessary to protect civilians.

Confidential note says UN adopted ‘proactive posture’

A confidential note to the Security Council on Sunday from the UN Department of Peacekeeping, seen by Reuters, said: “UNMISS has adopted a proactive posture, conducting patrols within and outside” its compounds and has reinforced the perimeter security to enhance protection for displaced civilians and UN staff.

The note said the fighting “involved the use of attack helicopters and tanks”, and that the UN compounds were in the crossfire.

China’s defence ministry issued a statement on Monday condemning the attack, and said it would strengthen safety measures.

Meanwhile UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for “decisive action” to regain control of the security situation in Juba.

“I am deeply frustrated that despite commitments by South Sudan’s leaders, fighting has resumed,” Ban said in a statement. “This senseless violence is unacceptable and has the potential of reversing the progress made so far in the peace process.”

Russia opposes arms embargo

Earlier this year, Security Council veto power Russia said it was opposed to an arms embargo because Moscow did not believe it would be helpful to the implementation of a peace deal agreed to by Kiir and Machar last August.

When asked on Sunday about the possibility of an arms embargo, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, said the council needed to do “something serious about stabilising the political situation”.

The confidential UN peacekeeping note said some 3,000 civilians, including senior opposition officials, had sought shelter at one UN site, while 800 other civilians had entered a second UN compound.

“Dr. Machar’s residence was attacked twice today including using tanks and helicopter gunships. Helicopters from Kiir’s side attacked the residence twice,” Machar’s spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, told Reuters by phone from abroad.

He added that the situation in Juba had subsequently calmed, echoing comments from residents who said gunfire had eased later on Sunday after several hours of shooting.

Gunfire breaks out as Kiir and Machar hold talks

The fighting first erupted on Thursday, when troops loyal to Kiir stopped and demanded they be allowed to search vehicles of Machar’s loyalists. That stand-off led to clashes.

Gunfire broke out again on Friday between the vice president’s bodyguards and the presidential guard, while the two men were holding talks at the presidential State House to defuse tensions. Both men said at the time they did not know what had prompted the exchange of fire.

Kenya’s presidency urged Kiir and Machar to move heavy weaponry and troops out of civilian areas in Juba. It said Kenya was ready to support law enforcement. Kenya Airways has suspended flights to Juba.

Machar and Kiir spent months wrangling over details after signing the peace deal last year. Machar finally returned to Juba to resume his former position as vice president in April.

Fighting since 2013 has left large areas of the country of 11 million people struggling to find enough food. It has also disrupted oil production, by far the government’s biggest source of revenue.