South Asia and Beyond

Indian Peacekeepers Protected South Sudanese During Riots, Did Excellent Job: UNMISS Head David Shearer

NEW DELHI: Indian peacekeepers did an “excellent job” during riots in Renk, a town in the Upper Nile region of South Sudan, when mobs burnt down an NGO base and threatened to attack a World Food Programme warehouse last month, says David Shearer, the head of UNMISS, the UN Mission in the country. They mobilised a quick reaction team and evacuated 32 humanitarian workers following the violent attacks. Expressing “appreciation” for all blue-berets “staying for a lot longer than 12 months” because of Covid-19, Shearer said “the rotation backlog will be cleared by the end of the year.” He also praised Indian Force Commander, Lt Gen S.S. Tinaikar for “hub and spoke operations that’s bringing down intercommunal violence, reducing conflict and saving lives.” Ambassador S.D. Moorthy is a “big supporter of UNMISS” and “with India on the Security Council next year (as a non-permanent member), it’s going to be even more important to have that backing,” the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative (SRSG) added.

Speaking exclusively from the capital Juba to StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi, Shearer delineated “a number of things that have happened” in 2020 including a transitional unity government being set up. But he admitted that “peace agreements need to have momentum” adding “lack of structural elements… have contributed to localised violence… most of which is at a tribal level and often fuelled and stoked by national actors.” To deal with that largely rural violence, the SRSG says the UN is “moving from static activities of ‘Protection of Civilian’ (PoC) sites and using the same troops to move out to areas where we’re seeing communal violence.” Noting “some nervousness” among people in PoC sites and humanitarian agencies, he said “it doesn’t mean the camps will close” adding, the UN “still has a mandate to protect civilians if anything should happen. But, the government, security forces and police should be responsible for law and order.” The UNMISS head admitted that the unification of government and former opposition forces is stalled by a “lack of political will and resources” and said with overall benchmarks and timetables not being met, both President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar are being pushed “to make sure that this moves at the right speed.”

India has over 2,500 personnel, including two Indian Army battalions and about 23 police personnel, 10 of them women in peacekeeping operations in UNMISS. The usual annual rotation, stopped by COVID, resumes with 200 Indians flying out to South Sudan at the end of November. They have been tested three weeks before leaving, quarantined and will be tested again three days before departing. Overall, India has contributed the most number of peacekeepers, participated in the most missions and lost the most personnel in UN blue-beret operations around the world.

South Sudan is the world’s newest country, gaining independence from Sudan in 2011 as the outcome of a 2005 agreement that ended Africa’s longest civil war. But that didn’t end the conflict. Civil war that broke out in 2013 after a fallout between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Dr Riek Machar killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced another four million plus. A power-sharing deal in 2018 is trying to end that conflict. In February 2020, a transitional coalition government was formed between the two leaders and outstanding issues are still being negotiated.

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Amitabh P. Revi

Russian language speaker and conflict journalist. Amitabh Revi has been there, done that—from the battlefields of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to sublime Russia, Australia and the United States. Along the way he's picked up the Dag Hammarskjöld Distinguished Journalist Fellowship, the Ramnath Goenka award for coverage of the Iraq War and RT's Khaled Alkhateb Award for his reporting from Palmyra, Syria.