July 1, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has condemned in the “strongest possible terms” what it described as fatal shooting of internally displaced persons (IDPs) at its civilian-protection-site on Wednesday evening in the oil-rich state capital, Malakal.
It said the shooting which was carried out by three armed soldiers occurred at a newly established Mission’s protection-of-civilians site at its compound outside Malakal town which has been under full control of joint opposition forces under the leadership of former vice president, Riek Machar, and under the overall command of Major General Johnson Olony. The rebels captured the strategic town on Saturday after flushing out government troops.
“The Mission has received information that three members of forces belonging to either the Sudan People’s Liberation Army In Opposition or the allied militia led by Gen. Johnson Olony who are currently controlling the Upper Nile state capital [Malakal] opened fire on IDPs at a recently opened protection-of-civilians site in the UNMISS compound today,” partly reads the statement from UNMISS.
“UNMISS peacekeepers returned fire against the assailants, and UNMISS peacekeepers are currently engaging with senior commanders of armed opposition forces in a bid to identify the perpetrators of this unprovoked attack among their own ranks,” it said.
One civilian was killed and six other IDPs were wounded in the attack. The wounded were receiving treatment at the hospital inside the UNMISS compound, and one was said to be in a critical condition.
Upper Nile state’s capital, Malakal, is divided into pro-government and anti-government civilian populations. Previously whenever government forces control the town, civilians mainly from the Nuer ethnic group fled to the UN compound for protections while members of Dinka and Shilluk ethnic groups felt free in the town.
But after General Johnson Olony defected from the government and joined with the rebels in April, the Dinka ethnic group reversely felt insecure particularly when on Saturday the rebel forces recaptured the state capital, teaming up the Nuer and Shilluk communities.
The exact circumstances surrounding the shooting incident remained unclear. The incident also occurred on the day John Olony’s group officially declared merger with the rebel group led by Machar.
This is not the first time that an UNMISS protection-of-civilians site has come under attack by armed elements in South Sudan.
Last month the UN based inhabiting tens of thousands of IDPs, mainly from the Nuer ethnic group, was attacked in the capital, Juba, killing a number of them. In Bor last year, tens of IDPs were attacked by armed Dinka youth believed to be supported by the government.
UNMISS said the attacks constituted war crimes and such “indefensible actions will compromise the Mission’s ability to implement its mandate if they continue to go unpunished.”
UNMISS in the statement demanded that the warring parties in the current conflict honour their obligation to ensure the safety and security of UN personnel in South Sudan as well as civilians seeking shelter within the UN sites and respect the inviolability of UN property and assets in the country.
Upper Nile region has remained hotly contested for the past 18 months between government forces and opposition forces due to its strategic importance as it hosts the country’s main resources of the country, such oil, which provides 98% of the overall government’s budget.