JUBA – Amid deepening political and humanitarian crisis, the United Nations announced on Friday, December 20, it had sent helicopters to rescue personnel from a base in South Sudan that came under lethal attack from unknown assailants.
“UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is doing everything it can, within its means and in a very fluid situation, to protect civilians, as well as United Nations and international personnel on the ground,” a statement issued by the spokesman of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spokesperson said.
“There are indications that civilians may have been killed and wounded in the attack, but this remains to be verified. Should these reports prove true, those responsible must be held accountable for their crimes.”
According to the statement published on the UN News Center, unknown assailants attacked the UN base on South Sudan, possibly killing or injuring civilians who had sought refuge during violent clashes between Government forces and rebels.
At the time of the attack, 43 Indian peacekeepers, six UN police advisers and two UN civilian staffers were present at the base.
Overall UNMISS has over 6,800 troops and police in the country, which gained independence after seceding from Sudan less than three years ago.
The new country has been thrown into turmoil since Sunday when, according to media reports, President Salva Kiir’s Government said soldiers loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar, dismissed in July, launched an attempted coup.
Hundreds of people have been killed since then, while thousands were forced to evacuate their homes.
Earlier Friday, the mission said on Twitter that a total of 34,000 people had taken refuge at its facilities.
Around 20,000 people were housed at its two compounds in Juba and up to 14,000 at its compound in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State, about 125 miles north of Juba, the mission said.
Earlier in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said an estimated 20,000 people, mainly women and children, are still camped at UN premises in Juba.
Others are reported to be leaving the town in fear of attack by rival groups, in what she called a rapidly deteriorating security situation.
“We have received reports of civilians killed in Juba based on their ethnicity,” she added.
“I call on the Government to send a clear message on command responsibility within the SPLA (South Sudanese Army) to prevent retaliatory attacks based on ethnicity and tribal affiliation and to hold the alleged perpetrators accountable,” she added.
“I am deeply worried about the safety and security of civilians caught in the crossfire. The risk of seeing the fighting taking on an ethnic dimension is extremely high and could result in a dangerous situation,” Pillay said.
The UN high commissioner has also voiced “extreme concern” for people arrested by the Government and reports of numerous extra-judicial killings, urging the authorities to clarify the whereabouts of at least 10 former senior government officials arrested in Juba two days ago.
“I urge the Government to ensure that all those detained are accorded due process and that they are promptly either charged or released,” she added.
Adding to civil was fears, South Sudan army lost Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, on Thursday to a military faction associated with Machar.
"Our soldiers have lost control of Bor to the force of Riek Machar late on Wednesday. There was shooting last night," army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP Thursday.
“We don't have information on casualties or the displaced in the town, as operations are ongoing.”
Aguer said government officials in Bor may also have defected, since none were answering their phones, the Associated Press reported.
Bor was the scene of a 1991 massacre when ethnic Nuers killed hundreds of Dinkas.
The force that defected from the army in Bor was under the command of Gen. Peter Gadet Yaak, a commander of Nuer ethnicity.
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