|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on South Sudan Humanitarian Situation
While fundamental decisions had to be taken about the 2011 referendum, the security of South Sudan was threatened both by internal conflicts and Lord’s Resistance Army activities, a top official of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) said today at a Headquarters press conference.
Updating correspondents through a video-link, David Gressly, UNMIS’ Regional Coordinator for South Sudan said that five years into the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and one-and-a-half years before the planned referendum that would decide the fate of the Sudan, South Sudan had had its ups and downs. A new Government had to build up institutions from scratch, including army and police. In 2005, it had been confronted by many armed groups that had not been incorporated in the CPA. Since 2006, they had, however, been brought on board.
He said that, since the new Government had signed a ceasefire agreement with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in April 2006, the threat to the State had diminished, but the group still terrorized areas in the south bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, with raids for food and abducting children.
Of concern was that inter-clan conflicts, which until recently mostly consisted of raids on cattle, water and land, now seemed to deliberately target civilians, in particular women and children, he said. As violence took place in very remote areas, providing protection by the newly established Government proved to be a challenge. He noted that UNMIS was mandated as a monitoring mission, with lightly equipped force protection, and could not offer protection of civilians.
Responding to questions, Mr. Gressly said the 2011 referendum would define whether the Sudan would remain united or whether there would be two States. Although fundamental decisions about the referendum and its aftermath still had to be taken, neither side seemed to want a renewal of the conflict. The recent discovery of many weapons in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, should not be linked to the upcoming national elections or the referendum. Since the conflict, weapons had always been around.
He said the two parties had to urgently work out a referendum act, establish a commission to oversee the referendum and put in place the mechanics to carry it out. They had to agree on such matters as who was eligible to vote, what voting majority was required to legitimize an outcome, and what voter turn-out was required to legitimize the referendum. All of that had to be accomplished within the next few months to carry out the referendum within the required time. Although negotiations were ongoing, the fundamental questions mentioned seemed to be a stumbling block for agreement. Arrangements for the referendum’s aftermath, whatever the outcome, had to be worked out beforehand in order to make both sides comfortable with the outcome.
UNMIS was trying to maintain stability and assist in avoiding violence that could serve as a distraction to the electoral process, he said. It was working with both parties, trying to be an “honest broker” and was willing to provide logistical support and technical advice. He hoped that the Legislative Assembly, which would meet within the next few weeks, would pass the necessary legislation to proceed with the referendum, as further delays would be problematic.
* *** *For information media • not an official record