UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations has warned that the situation in South Sudan’s Jonglei State has deteriorated after an attack Thursday on a U.N. base in Akobo sheltering civilians. The U.N. has lost contact with the base and plans to send aircraft to Akobo Friday to remove its personnel and learn what has happened to the civilians.
The United Nations says a group of youth, reported to be from the Lou Nuer ethnic group, forcibly entered the temporary operating base belonging to the U.N. Mission in Akobo.
At the time, 43 Indian peacekeepers, six U.N. police advisers and two civilian U.N. staff were there, in addition to 32 Dinka civilians who had sought refuge at the base.
The U.N. mission, UNMISS, said it plans to dispatch aircraft early Friday to evacuate U.N. personnel who are safe at a Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) camp in the area.
Communications with the U.N. base have been cut off, and the mission wants to know what has happened to the 32 civilians who were there at the time of the attack, as well as three peacekeepers who are unaccounted for.
An additional 60 peacekeepers are expected to be deployed to Akobo to reinforce the base.
U.N. Deputy-Secretary General Jan Eliasson told reporters they are working to verify reports of possible casualties.
“Our base in Akobo, Jonglei state, was attacked and we have reports that lives were lost. We do not have the details of that yet. Of course the secretary-general and I both condemn this attack in the strongest terms," said Eliasson.
The Lou Nuer are associated with Riek Machar, South Sudan's former vice president, who was fired by President Salva Kiir in July.
Kiir, a Dinka, has accused Machar and his supporters of trying to stage a coup against his government earlier this week, setting off violence that officials say has killed about 500 people.
Eliasson urged both sides to begin talks, saying it is the only way to prevent an escalation of the violence.
“This is a political crisis and urgently needs to be dealt with through political dialogue. Violence is spreading and could spread even further. We need all South Sudan leaders and political personalities now to immediately appeal for calm and call on their supporters to suspend hostilities," he said.
Meanwhile, the U.N. said the situation in Juba, where the violence erupted on Sunday, appeared calmer Thursday. However, civilians are still seeking protection, including a group of several hundred students at Juba University and between 2,000 and 5,000 people at another location in Juba, called the Kator complex.
The United Nations has a force of about 7,600 troops and police in South Sudan whose mandate includes the protection of civilians.