Inadequate numbers of peacekeepers for the next mission in South Sudan risk endangering thousands of lives and the country’s future stability, international agency Oxfam said today.
As the UN Security Council this week debates the future of the mission, Oxfam warned that failure to fully fund and resource it – such as by slashing troop or civilian staffing numbers – would undermine the progress that has been made over the past six years.
The current peacekeeping mission to Sudan, known as the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), is scheduled to wind up from this Saturday 9 July and the nature of the peace operation to follow is still unclear.
Saturday 9 July also marks the day the Republic of South Sudan becomes an independent nation.
Oxfam Australia’s Humanitarian Advocacy Coordinator Steph Cousins said escalating conflict in the areas bordering North and South Sudan made this a critical time for what would soon be the world’s newest nation.
“If there was ever a time for the Security Council and countries that contribute to peacekeeping to support the people of Sudan, it is now,” Ms Cousins said.
“Australia is among the countries that have demonstrated their commitment to the long-term security and development of South Sudan and have a responsibility to ensure the new mission has adequate personnel, equipment and funding.
“Violence is rising throughout southern Sudan and this isn’t the time to go cheap by cutting the budget of the future UN mission, the number of boots on the ground or the number of civilian staff. These countries must now maintain their commitment and investment at a time of optimism but also extreme tension for the people of South Sudan.”
Australia currently contributes 17 personnel to UNMIS, including six military observers and 11 other staff who specialise in air movements, aviation safety and logistic support.
Ms Cousins said Australia was well placed to contribute to the new peacekeeping effort. Moreover, as Australia continues to campaign for a seat on the Security Council in 2013, the protection of civilians in Sudan must be of great concern.
Oxfam said that decisions on the future UN mission must reflect the real needs on the ground, not short-term budget concerns. The UN Secretary-General has recommended a modest 7000 troops – which is 5000 less than under the current mission.
This year has been the most violent year for Southern Sudan since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. Violence in recent weeks in Abyei, Southern Kordofan, southern Sudan and the areas bordering North and South Sudan have forced over 180,000 people to flee their homes, according to UN reports.
Deadly cattle raids, inter-communal violence and clashes between southern rebels and the army have also killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands of people this year.
Ms Cousins said despite the Government of Southern Sudan’s public commitments to protect its people from violence, the country still needed support from the international community to keep civilians safe and promote law and order.
For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Chee Chee Leung 0400 732 795.