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December 20, 2013

UN: Militants Surround South Sudan Base

by Margaret Besheer

The United Nations Security Council's president says about 14,000 civilians have taken shelter at a U.N. base that is now surrounded by up to 3,000 armed men. There are fears the situation could turn deadly, much like an attack Thursday that killed 11 civilians.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud said Friday that Indian peacekeepers are protecting the base in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state. He urged the parties to stop fighting and go to the negotiating table before the crisis escalates out of control.

“It is a political crisis, basically; first a political crisis within the leadership of the SPLM [Sudan People's Liberation Movement]. But as I have said, you have the political crisis and you have a powder keg which is the ethnic question. So the political crisis could lead to a general political civil war if we don’t solve very quickly the political crisis through dialogue," said Araud.

On Friday, the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, said some 2,000 ethnic Lou Nuer youth surrounded a U.N. base at Akobo on Thursday. They opened fire in the direction of the 32 Dinka civilians who had taken refuge inside the compound, killing 11.

​​The youth also attacked the 43 Indian peacekeepers at Akobo, overwhelming them and seizing their weapons and ammunition. Two peacekeepers were killed and one was seriously injured.

The U.N. mission sent helicopters to Akobo on Friday to evacuate the peacekeepers and other personnel, who were taken to a Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) camp for their safety.

After an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting Friday, Araud told reporters that the situation is very fluid and tense in several parts of the country.

​​“For the moment, the UNMISS is directly protecting 35,000 civilians. We have numerous reports of human rights violations, ethnic targeting. The government estimate was at least 500 killed in Juba," he said.

The East African regional group IGAD has sent a delegation to Juba, the South Sudan capital, where they hope to mediate the situation. Ambassador Araud expressed the Security Council’s support for their mission.

The U.N. Secretary-General has also called for calm and dialogue to resolve the crisis.

The Lou Nuer are associated with Riek Machar, South Sudan's former vice president. President Salva Kiir fired Machar in July.

Kiir, a Dinka, accuses Machar and his supporters of trying to stage a coup against his government earlier this week, setting off the deadly violence.

The United Nations has a force of about 7,600 troops and police in South Sudan whose mandate includes the protection of civilians.