By Arul Louis
United Nations, Feb 22 (IANS) Indian peacekeepers are “taking robust measures to protect South Sudan refugees sheltered in a massive camp where 18 people have been killed and scores injured this week in fighting between ethnic groups — which has come under attack from the South Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), according to a source monitoring the situation from here.
The fighting started Wednesday between young people belonging to the Shilluk and Dinka tribes in the Malakal camp in South Sudan and SPLA members fired into the camp and also entered it attacking civilians, the Security Council said Friday in a press statement.
At that point, the source at the UN told IANS, “the Indian troops went in and even fired with their APCs (armored personnel carriers) and other things to get the situation under control.”
The SPLA, “although they would deny it, fired into the camp from the outside also” and the Indian peacekeepers “took robust measures externally to prevent any SPLA soldiers from harming these people and getting the situation under control,” the source added.
The internal security of the camp is the responsibility of the UN police forces, while the external protection is of the troops. The troops back up the police inside in emergencies.
The source said that SPLA members were able to get inside the camp as civilians “because they are Dinkas they can wear civvies.” It was also possible for them to bring in weapons through the Dinkas who live inside the camp and can go in and out, the source added.
There were no casualties among the peacekeepers, the source said. Out of the 2,273 Indian peacekeepers in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) about 550 are stationed in Malakal. Rwandan peacekeepers are also based there and operate alongside Indians.
Medecins Sans Frontiers, the Switzerland-headquartered international medical charity, said two of those killed were its staff members.
Amid rising tensions in South Sudan, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to visit it next week, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced Friday. He added that Ban condemned the latest round of violence and expressed concern over “the rising inter-communal tensions between the Dinka and Shilluk which precipitated this incident.”
Both Ban and the Council issued a stern warning that attacks on civilians and UN facilities and peacekeepers may constitute war crimes.
Ban’s Deputy Special Representative in South Sudan, Moustapha Soumare, told the Council Friday that in response to the growing tension, UNMISS had adopted “a more agile posture” to protect civilians and was conducting long-duration patrols away from its bases and setting up temporary operating bases in areas of heightened tension.
The refugee camp, known as a protection of civilian (POC) site, at Malakal in Upper Nile state is run by the UNMISS and houses over 47,000 people fleeing the civil war. People from rival tribes, whose members fight outside, are sheltered together in the camp and this sometimes leads to flareups.
South Sudan got its independence from Sudan in 2011 and two years ago the civil war started between President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Vice President Riek Machar and their supporters.
After reconciliation efforts by the UN and a group of African nations, Kiir had said that a transitional government of national unity (TgoNU) was to be formed Friday. But the Sudan Tribune reported that Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth said it was being delayed to give time for Machar’s forces to deploy in the capital Juba to facilitate his return.
Last year an Indian colonel was injured in Malakal in a crossfire between rival groups. In 2013, five Indian peacekeepers were killed when their convoy was ambushed in Jongle state.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected])