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We can never rule out setbacks in the relationship between Sudan and S. Sudan

Esther Muwombi
Hilde Johnson, Special Representative of the Secretary-General with the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), spoke to the press on increasing conflicts in the country and its delicate…
30.04.2013  |  Juba
Hilde Johnson, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in South Sudan.
Hilde Johnson, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in South Sudan.

Q: Despite reports that Sudan was moving its tanks along the Heglig areas near the border with South Sudan, you have described relations between South Sudan and Sudan as improving”. Is this still the case?  

JOHNSON: Let me just underline that I said the relationship between them (Sudan and South Sudan) seems to be easing. These are not very enthusiastic or optimistic words but there is a rationale behind them. Oil wells have re-opened and I had a briefing from the Minister of Petroleum with the Vice-President, other ministers and key embassies which gave us reasons to believe that we are now moving in the right direction. That is the rationale behind my language. We can never rule out setbacks in a relationship as complex as that between Sudan and South Sudan, but we are hopeful that what we are seeing now will continue to move forward in a positive manner.

Q: Five Indian peacekeepers, two of its staff and two civilians were killed in Pibor County. In your latest report have you found out where the guns came from?

JOHNSON: Arms proliferation in South Sudan and Sudan as well as the surrounding neighbouring countries -- Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya -- is rampant and no one really knows how they circulate. In this respect, I would like caution against any basic interpretation of our report published on this issue.

Q: Do your reports reach South Sudanese officials or authorities?

JOHNSON: Every time we release publicly a report, we always share it beforehand with the government […]. This is important because it is part of the relationship we have with the government. The report remains independent, it is our own report; but we need to make sure that the government is informed of its content as well as factual issues that we may not have got right.

Q: Lou Nuer youth are reportedly mobilising in Jonglei. What is UNMISS doing to try and retain peace?

JOHNSON: First, we have integrated teams deployed in a number of Lou Nuer communities’ areas -- although we also deploy such teams with all other communities (we treat all communities equally). We have also sent out long-distance patrols and have a military and civilian presence. They pick up early warning information. We also have direct contacts with county authorities, community leaders and chiefs, to generate as much information as possible. And, finally, we have air recess. We have one of our helicopters from Rwanda on the military side which is able to carefully monitor whenever it is possible to observe any movement.
While we had quite a number of reports of mobilisation, it has not been the case in the last weeks […]. At this point in time particularly, we do not have indications of a major mobilisation. Nevertheless, as of last November and December, we saw how mobilisation can go uninterrupted -- disappear, amass and reconvene -- so we know it could be the case now as well. Therefore we are monitoring very, very carefully with all the resources we can use and have at our disposal, both in Lou Nuer areas but also elsewhere in Jonglei State.

Q: Do you protect them only from internal aggression or external as well? Because earlier this year, some three boys were kidnapped by the Misseriya people in Upper Nile State and we did not hear anything from UNMISS?

JOHNSON: The Mission’s mandate is related to the area of operations of the Republic of South Sudan. This means that our protection of civilians mandate is not related to the border areas, and is not related to the disputed territories or the claimed areas. Basically, our mandate implies the protection of civilians, not the protection of territory, the protection of the sovereignty of the state and the protection of property.

This is very critical because during the Heglig crisis and the following period, there were a lot of misunderstandings around the mandate implying that we should have been a buffer mission”. And now we have a border monitoring mission, which is already operational, at its very beginning, nascent. The Joint Verification and Border Monitoring Mission (JVBMM) has started; they are still getting their bases up and running. It includes observers from both Sudan and South Sudan, and military support from the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). They will be leading the monitoring mission.

That mission will operate 10 kilometres each side of the border zone, the Safe Demilitarised Border Zone separating the two countries. They will observe and engage in monitoring and the verification of any event or incidents between both countries.

Q: David Yau Yau’s activities seem to be expanding. He is reportedly attacking both government troops and civilians. Can you comment on that?

JOHNSON: I think at this point in time it is very difficult to know what is happening. We have noted casualties have been taken by the SPLA. We do not have visibility on what casualties are on the other side”. I am not in a position to give you independent views on that.