26 December 2013
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan


With the crisis in South Sudan continuing into its second week, the United Nations mission in that country was awaiting delivery of critical assets from other peacekeeping operations over the next 48 hours to bolster the protection of more than 50,000 civilians seeking refuge in its premises, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative said at a Headquarters press conference today.


“We are not abandoning South Sudan,” emphasized Hilde Johnson, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), via videoconference.  “We are here to stay and to protect.”  As fighting continued in Bor, capital of Jonglei State, where Government forces still controlled key areas, as well as the airstrip, and in Malakal, Upper Nile State, UNMISS and its humanitarian partners were tackling the challenges of providing food, shelter, sanitation and safety to a growing number of civilians fleeing gunfire and violence, she said.  While the situation in Bentui, Unity State, was currently more peaceful, unrest had been reported in other areas.


Calling on political leaders to “lay down their arms and give peace a chance”, she welcomed the call by President Salva Kiir of South Sudan for all parties to end the violence and halt atrocities.  All stakeholders should put their country ahead of their differences, she stressed, referring to ethnic tensions.  Diversity should be an asset in nation-building, she said, voicing hope for a peaceful resolution in light of tomorrow’s Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) Summit in Nairobi, which Heads of State from South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and other neighbouring nations were expected to attend.


She said that, for their part, UNMISS personnel had been building expanded safe areas for civilians to ease overcrowding at its camps and compounds.  The Mission was also working on delivery, within the coming two days, of critically needed personnel and equipment, and was now in the process of enhancing the quality and speed of asset redeployment to the most volatile areas.


Humanitarian partners were running the camps, while peacekeepers were handling security, she continued, underlining that all peacekeepers were under instructions to use force when civilians were threatened.  Yet, UNMISS urgently needed reinforcements to ensure the safety of all civilians as growing numbers were too afraid of moving back to their homes in Juba and other areas.


Welcoming Security Council resolution 2132 (2013), which approved an increase of force levels in the country, Ms. Johnson said the scale of the crisis had challenged an already “overstretched” Mission, and more resources were needed.  A recent request for $166 million for emergency services by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reflected only part of the total $1.1 billion in humanitarian aid needed for South Sudan.


Addressing rumours and incorrect information circulating since the eruption of fighting, she said reports that 75 bodies had been found in mass graves in Bentui were incorrect, adding that she was also aware of a recent report that 13 to 15 Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers had been killed in a skirmish in that town.  A previous report citing “thousands and thousands” of casualties was also incorrect.  Although more than 1,000 people had been killed since the eruption of fighting 11 days ago, it was impossible to provide more precise figures.


She went on to emphasize that, contrary to rumours, no armed group had been given protection in UNMISS premises.  As for allegations of atrocities, extrajudicial killings and mass graves, the Mission’s human rights division was currently investigating those and other claims, she said, adding that it was essential that perpetrators were held accountable.


Asked about clues as to what had caused the outbreak of violence, she said the speed, gravity and scale had not been foreseen.  “No, we did not see this coming,” she added, while noting that, while there had been tensions within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in November, an international investment conference of 800 potential investors had concluded earlier this month with the signing of contracts for development activities.


Describing the current situation as a political struggle, she said a solution could only be reached through a political process.  Concerned that South Sudan was experiencing outbreaks of instability only two years after its birth, she expressed hope that the IGAD talks would generate the political will required to end the violence.


Citing Timor-Leste, where major violence had been overcome in 2006, she described that triumph as a sign that despite major setbacks, it was possible to get back on track.  Only peace and a protective environment that would enable civilians to feel safe enough to return home could solve the problem, she said.


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For information media • not an official record