(Corrects to update to show 120,000 people in need of emergency food aid)
NAIROBI (AlertNet) The United Nations has called on the government of South Sudan to deploy additional troops to Jonglei state, after fighting has left 120,000 people in need of emergency food aid and as U.N. peacekeeping helicopters face recall.
The Lou Nuer and Murle cattle-herding communities have become involved in a cycle of fatal raids and revenge attacks, initially over water and grazing land. Cattle have been raided and women and children abducted during the conflict.
“More government forces are urgently needed in key locations, as well as to patrol in the buffer zones between the communities to de-escalate tensions between the communities and avert further violence,” Hilde Johnson, the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative for South Sudan, said at a Thursday press briefing in the country’s capital, Juba.
South Sudan, born in July after a referendum agreed under a 2005 peace deal with Sudan ended decades of civil war, is a poor country awash with weapons and where security is fragile.
U.N. peacekeepers do not have sufficient troops or equipment to stop the violence in Jonglei – the largest of South Sudan’s 10 states, with vast swamps and few roads or modern communications.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week spoke of how the U.N. lacked resources in the face of the late-December march on the Murle-dominated town of Pibor by a column of 6,000 to 8,000 Lou Nuer.
“We saw it coming weeks before. Yet we were not able to stop it,” he said.
“The reason was painfully simple: we were denied the use of necessary resources – in particular helicopters that would have given us mobility and reach in a vast region without roads,” he added.
“At the critical moment, I was reduced to begging for replacements from neighbouring countries and missions.”
UNMISS (United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan) military helicopters were not deployed when Pibor was attacked. U.N. diplomats and officials have said that Russia refused to fly its military helicopters, which are being operated by the Russian military for UNMISS, to Pibor.
Instead, South Sudanese forces opened fire on the Lou Nuer column while UNMISS deployed Armoured Personnel Carriers to prevent the column from overrunning the town, Johnson said.
On Wednesday, Russia said it is likely to withdraw its helicopters from South Sudan because they had been attacked by South Sudanese security forces last year.
This could further weaken the U.N.’s ability to keep the peace in South Sudan.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)