As representatives from South Sudanese government and antigovernment forces sit down Monday for talks aimed at finding a long-term settlement to two months of bloodletting in the northeastern African country ― where a contingent of 280 South Korean peacekeepers are deployed ― clashes continue in some areas and the United Nations fears a humanitarian catastrophe.
Violence erupted in South Sudan on Dec. 15 when soldiers loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir began fighting others loyal to the ousted Vice President Riek Machar.
Since the violence began, South Korean soldiers have been providing badly needed assistance near Bor in the Jonglei state where they are deployed with Indian, Nepalese and Rwandan troops.
Sudan’s top diplomat here said he is proud of the role South Korea is playing in peacekeeping and what is needed now in South Sudan is national reconciliation, adding that his government has a special role to play in contributing to bringing the two sides together.
“Sudan and South Sudan were one united country three years ago. (The two nations) are now linked to each other by nine cooperation agreements,” said Sudanese Ambassador to South Korea Tageldin Elhadi in an interview with The Korea Herald in his office in Seoul on Wednesday.
The two nations cooperate on transporting oil from landlocked South Sudan to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, making oil an important source of income for both countries. According to one report, British Petroleum estimated that South Sudan holds sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil reserves.
“It is, then, very natural for Sudan to moderate talks and to play a positive role towards achieving a peaceful solution to the crisis in South Sudan through bilateral endeavors and the subregional mechanism of IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development),” Elhadi said.
|Sudanese Ambassador to South Korea Tageldin Elhadi speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald in his office in Seoul on Wednesday. (Philip lglauer/The Korea Herald)|
South Sudan, which split from Sudan in a 2011 national referendum, is Africa’s newest nation.
As the conflict escalated, the fledgling nation became fractured along ethnic lines. Soldiers hailing from the same Nuer ethnic group as Machar were forced to flee, and Kiir’s supporters went on an ethnically motivated killing spree in Juba.
Jonglei, as well as its capital of Bor, has been one the states worst affected by the conflict, its location being near strategic oil fields not far from Juba.
The hard-hit area near Bor in Jonglei state is where South Korea has posted its contribution to the U.N. peacekeeping efforts: the Hanbit Unit of 280 mostly engineers and medical specialists.
“When the coup happened, about 15,000-17,000 refugees came into the U.N. compound area. There was nothing to eat and nothing to drink and no sanitation. So, we provided sanitation support and security support, as well ― because there were both Dinka and Nuer peoples there and they were afraid of being killed,” said Gen. Ryoo Moo-bong, deputy director general of the International Policy Bureau at the Ministry of Defense. Ryoo said he will visit the region and the Hanbit Unit in April.
Over 80,000 civilians are currently protected by UNMISS at eight of its compounds throughout the country, according to the U.N.
“South Korean peacekeepers are playing a very vital role in protecting the internally displaced persons of the Bor area,” Elhadi said.
The number of refugees at the the compound supported by South Korea fluctuates as the situation on the ground changes, according to Ryoo. He estimated there are about 10,000 refugees there now.
“The biggest challenge these days is providing food and sanitation, because there are about 10,000 refugees there. Every day we face a big fight to provide safety, water and sanitation, and that kind of thing. We also must provide Level 1 medical support,” Ryoo said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed on Friday a statement by the Ministry of Defense on Dec. 24, two weeks after civil unrest began, that South Korea has no plans to deploy additional troops to the country.
Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya are leading efforts by the IGAD, an East African regional group, to bring the two sides in South Sudan together. Round Two of those talks are slated to start Monday.
Ambassador Mohammed Ahmed Al-Dabi leads Sudan’s delegation in the talks that promise a long-term solution in South Sudan including national reconciliation. Al-Dabi is an experienced negotiator. He was head of the Arab League observer mission in Syria from December 2011 to February 2012.
United Nations partners requested $1.26 billion to help more than 3 million people impacted by the civil upheaval, saying 900,000 have been forced from their homes. They said emergency aid is needed before seasonal rains make roads impassable in the landlocked nation.
“We are the only engineering unit (in the Bor area). The Indian, Rwandan and Nepalese are mostly infantry and military police units,” Ryoo said. “We have heavy equipment there. Almost every day our engineers go out to build bathrooms. They are discovering many dead bodies out there, too, which can carry disease, so we must dispose of them properly.”
Elhadi said Sudan is ready to help South Korea, and other nations contributing to peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance in South Sudan.
“In Sudan, the commission for humanitarian aid is ready to coordinate in delivering and distributing any Korean humanitarian assistance to refugees from South Sudan,” Elhadi said.
By Philip Iglauer (email@example.com)