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Top UN official in South Sudan urges Security Council to advance ‘common strategy’ on political process

The head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan today urged the Security Council to unite behind a common strategy for advancing the political process and peace in the crisis-torn country.

Addressing the Council in New York via video link, David Shearer, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in South Sudan and the head of the Mission, known as UNMISS, said that “unity of purpose will send the best signal to South Sudan’s political leaders to focus first and foremost on the plight of their citizens.”

He also called for a “coherent and unified regional position” to aid political developments in the country, noting that Governments in the region hold “significant influence” on political developments to end the three-year war but are not communicating the same message.

Today’s briefing comes as President Salva Kiir again declared a unilateral ceasefire from Juba and pledged to review the cases of political prisoners.

Mr. Shearer said these announcements are “very welcome” but “the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.” He noted that there will be close scrutiny on the number of prisoners released and whether the ceasefire monitoring group can perform its work.

The senior UN official also noted that President Kiir formally launched a National Dialogue this week meant to end the conflict begun in December 2013, but has excluded his political rival and former deputy, Riek Machar.

A wide view of the Security Council chamber as David Shearer, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), briefs the Council via video conference. UN Photo/Manuel Elias

In addition, inter-communal conflicts persist across the country, Mr. Shearer said. Among positive developments was the signing of a joint cessation of hostilities agreement between the Bor and Pibor communities in Jonglei, the result of UNMISS mediation.

Meanwhile, cyclical rains in South Sudan are expected to make roads impassable for the next four months. While the flooding will likely curb hostilities, it also greatly complicates the humanitarian response, making over 60 per cent of the country impossible to access by road or airstrips, and brings the spectre of cholera.

The humanitarian focus this month has been on the 20,000 civilians who fled to Aburoc in Upper Nile, fleeing fighting between the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) and SPLA in Opposition.

“Most arrived in a weak state – the perfect conditions for cholera to tear through their numbers,” said Mr. Shearer.

He praised the short-term deployment of peacekeepers who were helicoptered in by UNMISS to give “confidence” for humanitarians to follow.

He also lauded the work of humanitarians throughout the country, noting that this is one of the toughest operational environments and condemned “the unacceptable levels of violence that continue to be directed towards aid workers,” including detention, threats, arrests, assault and killings.

Mr. Shearer’s briefing comes as the world marks the International Day of UN Peacekeepers. Some 3,000 ‘blue helmets’ have died on duty since 1948.

The Council began its work today by unanimously adopting a resolution renewing until 31 May 2018 a host of sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freeze imposed by its resolution 2206 (2015), on those designated to be blocking peace, security and stability in South Sudan.