Before an official address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) South Sudan controversial vice president had a bitter taste in his month when reporters confronted him on the issue of peacekeepers in the civil war edging nation.
Taban Deng Gai said he didn’t think “South Sudan needs peacekeeping,” furiously noting that his country is “not a dumping place” for peacekeepers “who really can’t help”.
“We already have 13,000 UN troops in South Sudan who are sitting idle, not doing anything because there’s a problem with their mandate, and there’s also a problem with how they were selected,” Deng said.
“This is in order to avoid derailing national healing and reconciliation. External intervention often affects negatively internal reconciliation.” he added.
In a seemingly scripted address read at the Assembly the following day, Deng sent a notable mass of contradiction to the World in New York, loosely affirming his government’s willingness to accept the deployment of a 4,000-strong Regional Protection Force.
The Vice President assured members that South Sudan “has consented” to a Security Council resolution calling for the dispatch of the additional troops to Juba.
“My government’s position is that we have to engage more with the UN on the details pertaining to the implementation of this resolution,” Deng said.
The UN Mission in South Sudan administers camps at various locations around the country where it is protecting more than 200,000 civilians who have fled their homes due to fighting that broke out nearly three years ago.
Monitors have blamed government forces for attacks on the protection sites and for obstruction of UN aid operations.
Speaking to reporters on Friday evening in New York, UN peacekeeping chief Hevre Ladsous said, in response to Deng’s reported comments, “We heard different statements [from South Sudan officials]and this is another one.”
“When you agree to something,” Ladsous added, “you have to live up to your promises”.
-Causes of Violence-
He said there is no sign of South Sudanese cooperation with the effort to augment the peacekeeping force — a move endorsed by the East African leaders as well as by the African Union.
Ladsous joined UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson in suggesting on Friday that stabilizing South Sudan will likely require the participation of former rebel leader Machar.
He fled South Sudan in August after fierce clashes in Juba between government troops and Dr Machar’s armed opposition.
Some components of the rebel force then named Deng as the replacement for Machar in the transitional government’s number-two post.
But Machar “is not dead politically”, UN peacekeeping head Ladsous declared.
“He is out of the country but he does represent a very important element of the South Sudan community.”
Indeed Machar and top officials of the opposition SPLM-IO party issued a statement saying their forces would reorganize to “wage a popular armed resistance against the authoritarian and racist regime of President Salva Kiir.”
It’s the first political statement by Machar since he fled South Sudan in August.
Deputy Secretary-General Eliasson said earlier at a multilateral meeting on South Sudan that ongoing violence in the country is being fueled by “the marginalization of Riek Machar and his supporters, the sidelining of other opposition groups, both armed and unarmed, and the continued implementation of the 28-states order”.
The UN’s second-in-command was referring to South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s decree last December increasing the number of states from 10 to 28.
The armed opposition reacted negatively to that move, warning that it would exacerbate tribal divisions.
Both Eliasson and Ladsous called on the South Sudan government to take a more inclusive approach in talks on ending a conflict that has taken tens of thousands of lives and displaced more than two million civilians.
Deng, on his part, charged in his speech to the General Assembly that Dr Machar had triggered the fighting in Juba two months ago that undermined a peace agreement reached last year.
He told the Associated Press that Machar is welcome to return to the country.