South Sudan facing most violent year since end of civil war

By llucas

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JUBA—South Sudan is facing its most violent year since the end of the civil war in 2005, international organization Oxfam warned today, and it urged the UN Security Council, as it visits the region, to ensure that civilians are better protected.

Thousands of people are reported to have fled an escalation of fighting in the disputed Abyei region in the past few days, and Oxfam warned that civilians are facing multiple other threats across the South. Oxfam said the Security Council must ensure that the new mandate for the future UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan – which is currently under discussion – makes protecting civilians its top priority.

Over 1,400 people have been killed in South Sudan so far this year – already more than in the whole of 2010 – and at least 117,000 have fled their homes, as violence has dramatically increased in recent months. Oxfam said that in the past the UN has struggled to fulfill its protection role.

Inter-communal violence – which happens year on year and is often sparked by competition over resources such as cattle, land and water – has forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. Civilians have also been caught up in clashes between southern rebel groups and the South Sudan army, particularly in Unity and Jonglei states.

Fran Equiza, Oxfam’s Regional Director, said: “With just six weeks to go until the birth of the world’s newest country, the security situation is on a knife-edge. Protecting civilians from violence will be one of the new state’s biggest and most crucial challenges, and UN peacekeepers have a vital role to play. The UN peacekeeping mission has struggled and at times failed to protect people in South Sudan from violence, and the Security Council now has a chance to put that right.”

Oxfam said the new peacekeeping mission, planned for after independence, must deploy more troops to the most volatile “hotspot” areas, and ensure that they have the right training and equipment to be able to deter outbreaks of violence, and to respond rapidly as incidents occur. Peacekeepers should be able to carry out more long-range patrols and spend more time consulting with at-risk communities. Better monitoring by civilian staff of human rights abuses and potential areas of conflict is also needed.

Oxfam warned that much-needed development in South Sudan – which will be among the least developed countries in the world – is being threatened by the rising violence. The insecurity has limited aid agencies’ access to people in need, while families displaced by violence have lost homes, income and access to basic services. LRA attacks, for example, have had a devastating impact on agricultural production in some of South Sudan’s most fertile areas, as farmers have been too afraid to go to their fields in case of attack. 40,000 people were displaced by the LRA last year, and there have been at least 19 suspected LRA attacks in Western Equatoria since January.

Equiza said: “A UN peacekeeping mission can never be a long term solution, and ultimately the South Sudan government is responsible for protecting its own citizens. However, the stakes are so high that the UN must be able to support the state, and also provide protection to civilians where the state is unable to do so.”