It is imperative for UN peacekeepers to move freely and without any hindrance so they can carry out their mandate, the head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer said on Tuesday in a speech to senior commanders from South Sudan People’s Defence Force (SSPDF).
Shearer brought to the fore a recent incident in which a convoy delivering humanitarian assistance from Torit to Kapoeta was held for almost a week, pending various permissions to proceed.
“For six days, we waited for an SOI (Sharing of Information – which is normally shared between SSPDF and UNMISS to aid in free movement) so the force protection could accompany the World Food Program (WFP) convoy to Kapoeta,” he said, in his opening remarks to the commanders who had gathered for a day-long workshop involving the Joint Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JVMM).
“People were waiting for the food. They couldn’t get the food because they [peacekeepers] couldn’t get clearance on the ground. Eventually they did, and the operation happened very smoothly, but a lot of people had to wait and wait for the food they could have gotten a week earlier,” explained the head of UNMISS.
As part of its mandate UNMISS often deploys force protection teams to accompany humanitarian convoys on insecure routes in support of the delivery of humanitarian assistance – which is a part of the mission’s core mandate.
“World Food Program asked us to accompany them to give force protection because there is lots of criminality on the ground between Torit and Kapoeta. A lot of people have been attacked on that road and the truck drivers did not want to go,” explained David Shearer.
“We are here to help and support the people and civilians of South Sudan,” he said. “We are not here to impede your operations, we are not here to spy on you, we are here to help and support the people and civilians of South Sudan,” he said.
UNMISS peacekeepers have been in South Sudan since the country’s independence in 2011, working on various changing mandates.
“We have a good relationship with the JVMM. On the whole, I believe that cooperation and the good work that goes on is a testament to the way you yourselves and the UN, are able to work together for the common good,” he said.
“I do believe there are some issues where we can always do better,” added Shearer. “It is a courtesy that we provide information as to what we are doing and where we are going,” he noted, adding: “The way we notify each other and share information can be streamlined.”
Speaking on behalf of SSPDF, Chief of Defence Forces, Lieutenant-General Gabriel Jok Riak said dialoguing was important to help reach viable solutions for the sake of peace. He encouraged that any problematic issues arising need to be discussed.
“Let us open a new page. Let us agree. There should be no conflict between the two [United Nations Mission in South Sudan and South Sudanese],” said Lieutenant-General Riak, who added that his country appreciated the work of the UN in previous years and currently, as it supports the implementation of the peace agreement.
“We will try our best as South Sudanese to fully cooperate with the UN, as we also want to be part of peacekeeping,” said Lieutenant-General Riak.