March 23, 2017 (JUBA) – The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has accused South Sudan government of showing less concerns about the estimated 100,000 people suffering from famine.
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António Guterres (UN photo)
7.5 million people, aid agencies say, are in need of humanitarian assistance and thousands flee fighting in South Sudan.
Guterres, while addressing the Security Council, said President Salva Kiir’s leadership has failed to acknowledge the crisis in the war-torn nation and thus showed no willingness to end the ongoing crisis.
“The conflict in South Sudan continues to generate profound suffering,” he said.
“On the contrary, what we hear most often are denials – a refusal by the leadership to even acknowledge the crisis or to fulfill its responsibility to end it,” he added.
Guterres underscored the need to ensure unrestricted humanitarian access, including freedom of movement for UNMISS and a future Regional Protection Force, which was authorized by the Security Council in August 2016.
“But no such force, and no amount of diplomacy, can substitute for the lack of political will among those who govern the country,” said Guterres.
“If there is to be any hope of those leaders changing their current calculations, greater pressure is needed. This means first and foremost that the region and the Security Council must speak with one voice,” he added.
The senior U.N official accused South Sudan army (SPLA) and the opposition of conducting military operations in a number of areas, with devastating consequences for civilians, who face seemingly endless violence and are being forced to flee their homes.
He specifically cited the “alarming” situation especially in the South Sudan’s Greater Upper Nile area, with military clashes along the banks of the River Nile in and around Malakal, in the famine-affected counties of Unity, and in previously stable areas of Jonglei.
In the past three months, he said, the Greater Equatoria region also continued to see high levels of fighting and insecurity, with retaliatory operations by the SPLA and its allied militias against suspected rebel groups and the communities perceived to support them.
“Civilians continue to be subjected to horrendous attacks, including rape and the recruitment of children,” said the Secretary General.
More than 1.9 million people are displaced internally, more than 220,000 of whom are seeking safety in protection sites of the U.N mission in South Sudan while some 1.6 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.
“The humanitarian crisis continues to deepen,” said Guterres, highlighting the plight of more than 100,000 facing starvation.
But South Sudan’s deputy ambassador to the world body, Joseph Moum Malok said government was not responsible for the famine declared in part of the young nation and blamed in on drought.
He, however, said the South Sudanese leadership would spare no efforts to help address the situation and called upon members of the international community to help address this urgent matter.
Although the U.N has a 12,000-strong peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, the Security Council, last year, approved an additional 4,000 peacekeepers from the region to help protect civilians in the aftermath of clashes that occurred in the capital, Juba in July, 2016.
Guterres said the UN continues to work for the deployment of the regional force and restoration of the peace process, but he stressed that “no such force, and no amount of diplomacy, can substitute for the lack of political will among those who govern the country.”
“There is a strong consensus that South Sudanese leaders need to do more to demonstrate their commitment to the well-being of the country’s people, who are among the poorest in the world,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Guterres welcomed President Kiir’s intention to hold a national dialogue, but said the initiative is “not convincing in the context of ongoing hostilities”, citing the absence of consultation with key stakeholders, the systematic curtailment of basic political freedoms and restrictions on humanitarian access and the growing fragmentation of both sides of the South Sudanese conflict.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced in South Sudan’s worst ever violence since independence in July 2011.