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April 03, 2014

South Sudan Demands Apology Over Western Diplomats' Letter

by Mugume Davis Rwakaringi

South Sudan demanded an apology from 10 western countries and the European Union after they released a statement last week condemning the government of South Sudan for interfering in United Nations' activities in the country.

Deputy Foreign Minister Peter Bashir Gbandi said the statement was not delivered to the South Sudanese authorities through the proper diplomatic channels. He also complained that the government learned of the allegations in the letter through local media reports.

“We consider this statement of condemnation to the government as a negative trend in our diplomatic relations and as a grave violation of diplomatic practice and rules, as well as a serious interference in the internal affairs of the Republic of South Sudan,” Gbandi said.

In the statement released last Friday, the ambassadors and chargés d'affaires of the United States, United Kingdom and Norway -- the so-called South Sudan troika -- and France, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and the European Union, spoke out against "the continued obstruction of UNMISS operations by Government and opposition forces and any threats to UNMISS personnel."

The statement condemned both the government and opposition forces for human rights abuses and for "violations of international humanitarian law that have resulted in the loss of lives, and internal displacements as well as refugees along the borders in neighboring nations.' The letter warned that interference with UN work may be a violation of international law.
 
Gbandi denied that the government has been interfering with the U.N.’s work.
 
“We need some clarifications... and examples of where the government has been continually obstructing UNMISS operations," he said. "This is a very serious allegation..."
 
After a closed-door meeting with officials at the foreign ministry, Ambassador Sven Kuehn Von Burgsdorff, head of the E.U. delegation to Juba, said the western diplomats will not apologize.

“It remains the sovereign right of diplomatic missions to issue a press statement, as we have done in the past," he said.

During the meeting with the foreign ministry, Burgsdorff said the western diplomats told South Sudanese officials "that we can start to improve on ways of communicating with our friends in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We also reiterated that many of these points, if not all, have been mentioned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
 
Neither Gbandi nor Burgsdorff would say what the next step would be but the E.U. ambassador said he does not expect the incident to affect diplomatic relations with South Sudan.