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UN Official: Peacekeepers in S. Sudan to Extend Patrols Outside Camps

A boy carries a girl as they walk through the mud in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp inside the U.N. base in Malakal, South Sudan, July 24, 2014.

The top United Nations official in South Sudan says peacekeepers are set to increase patrols outside their bases, to protect civilians living in fighting zones. Reaching those displaced by violence remains a challenge for the U.N.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, the head of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Ellen Loej, said peacekeepers were planning to extend patrols outside of base camps to protect those affected by violence.

“The U.N. wants them to move out of some of the U.N. camps, to be visible in the communities, and thereby give a sense, hopefully, of security,” said Loej.

About 1.5 million people have been displaced in South Sudan since December by fighting between the government and an armed opposition, stemming from a political dispute between the president and his former deputy.

Nearly 100,000 displaced civilians have taken refuge at U.N. peacekeeping bases, while the rest are living outside of camps, often out of the reach of aid.

The United Nations has about 10,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan, and received a surge of forces this year from Ethiopia, Rwanda and Ghana.

Loej said the United Nations was expecting more to come, including a battalion from China, but said they were having “a little difficulty” getting troops and equipment in place.

Access is another obstacle, as military forces have in some instances prevented U.N. peacekeepers from moving in conflict areas.

Loej called for greater support from South Sudan authorities.

“The challenges in South Sudan are enormous, these challenges are both internal and external and for the mission to implement our mandate, we require cooperation and support by all parties in South Sudan - the government, the opposition and other interest groups,” said the head of UNMISS.

In May, the U.N. Security Council adjusted the mandate for peacekeepers in South Sudan to give priority to protecting civilians.

President Salva Kiir has been critical of the new mandate, complaining last month at the U.N. General Assembly that the mission had stopped helping with development and capacity building.