UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, his special representative in South Sudan, Hilde F. Johnson, and the UN Security Council have all strongly condemned the killing of at least 12 people working with the UN peacekeeping mission in Jonglei State.
“The secretary-general is appalled by the attack. He condemns in the strongest terms the killing of five Indian peacekeepers and two UNMISS (UN Mission in South Sudan) national staff and five civilian staff contractors,” Johnson said.
“Ban recalls the killing of peacekeepers is a war crime falling under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. He calls on the Government of South Sudan to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.”
In separate statements, both Ban and Johnson expressed condolences to the families of the peacekeepers, colleagues and civilians killed in the attack, as well as the Governments of India and South Sudan.
“At least nine additional peacekeepers and accompanying civilians were injured and some remain unaccounted for according to the latest information from UNMISS.
The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York said about 30 peacekeepers were escorting a civilian convoy when they were ambushed by some 200 armed, unidentified men near the settlement of Gumuruk in Jonglei.
A firefight erupted as Indian peacekeepers tried to protect the civilians. The Indian peacekeepers “fought courageously” DPKO said adding the attack was “a deliberate targeting of the UN”.
Speaking from Juba, Johnson said the UN Mission remained resolute in assisting the people of South Sudan. “This attack will not deter UNMISS and its peacekeepers from working to protect vulnerable communities in South Sudan.”
“UNMISS is determined to continue its work in supporting authorities ensure peace.”
In a statement read out on behalf of the 15-member Security Council, Ambassador Eugène-Richard Gasana of Rwanda, which holds the rotating presidency of the UN body for April, reiterated “full support to UNMISS and troop contributing countries” in South Sudan.
The UN has been increasingly vocal in recent weeks about the need for increased protection of civilians in Jonglei state.
South Sudan faces considerable security challenges, in particular, in Jonglei state and the tri-state area of Lakes, Warrap and Unity.
Last week, the UN mission released its findings into a probe of a cattle raid on a February 8 attack near Walgak in West Akobo in which at least at least 85 cattle herders, mostly women and children, were killed.
According to a Spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UNMISS investigation found a group of armed men, allegedly members of the Murle community, attacked Lou Nuer pastoralists migrating to grazing areas.
The OHCHR spokesperson called on South Sudanese authorities to immediately launch an investigation into this gruesome attack and bring the perpetrators to justice in order to end the cycle of violence and prevailing impunity.
UNMISS said the attack represented the highest single loss of life since an increase in inter-communal violence began several months ago.
Speaking to journalists in Juba, Johnson urged the government and the local communities to break the deadly cycle of violence spurred by inter-communal violence and attacks by armed groups. “The destabilisation of Jonglei must stop.”