U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan Toby Lanzer has been expelled from the troubled nation, just weeks before he was scheduled to leave for a new posting, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office said Monday.
"We, at the U.N., were informed by the Sudanese authorities some days back about their intention to expel Mr. Lanzer," Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary General Farhan Haq said.
Haq said the government of President Salva Kiir did not explain why Mr. Lanzer is being expelled. He said the United Nations finds the decision "confusing."
"Mr. Lanzer was already set to leave South Sudan this coming month... to take up his position as a regional humanitarian coordinator in the Sahel region of West Africa. In fact, just last week the secretary-general announced the appointment of Eugene Owusu of Ghana as Mr. Lanzer's replacement in South Sudan. So it's confusing why at this stage South Sudan would take this decision to expel him," Haq said.
The United Nations has called on South Sudan to reverse the decision and allow Lanzer the same freedom to "go about his work without hindrance from any government."
'Ensuring life-saving assistance'
Ban said in a statement that Lanzer has been "instrumental in addressing the increasing humanitarian needs of conflict-affected communities" in South Sudan, and in "ensuring that life-saving humanitarian assistance reaches the most vulnerable."
Nearly 18 months of conflict in South Sudan have forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes and pushed the country to the edge of economic collapse. Last week, aid agencies warned that around 4.6 million people - more than 40 percent of the population - could face severe hunger in the next three months and called for the conflict to stop.
Ban appointed Lanzer as the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan in July, 2012.
Since the country erupted in conflict in December 2013, Lanzer has been an outspoken advocate for peace, saying it was the only way to avert a humanitarian disaster and put South Sudan back on the path to development.
Haq said Lanzer was not in South Sudan when the expulsion order was given. He said the South Sudanese government could try to bar Lanzer re-entry to South Sudan, but said that would be "unacceptable to us."