Lidder urges SPLA to grant humanitarian access in Unity State

29 April 2011 – A top UNMIS official concluded a two-day fact-finding mission to Unity State today with a call on senior officers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to ensure access for UN humanitarian aid agencies and non-governmental organizations to local residents displaced by recent clashes between the SPLA and anti-government militias.

During the visit, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General Jasbir Lidder led a seven-person UN delegation, who traveled from Juba to the Unity State capital of Bentiu on Thursday and then visited Mayom County today, where militia forces led by the renegade SPLA general Peter Gatdet attacked the town of Mankien and the village of Tam on 21 April and 24 April, respectively.

Accompanied by UN Deputy Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande, Mr. Lidder first met with Unity State Governor Taban Deng Gai, who accused the national government in Khartoum of responsibility for the rising number of raids that have targeted SPLA forces and communities in the state since the conclusion of last January’s historic Southern Sudan referendum on self-determination.

Mr. Lidder told the governor that he appreciated Mr. Gai’s concern but said that conclusive “proof of involvement” had to be obtained before UNMIS could assign blame for the series of armed confrontations that has buffeted the greater Upper Nile region in the last three months.

Ms. Grande brought to the governor’s attention the commandeering of trucks belonging to UN agencies by SPLA soldiers in recent weeks and asked for his government’s assistance in recovering two missing vehicles operated by the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The whereabouts of the IOM vehicles’ drivers also remain unknown.

On Friday morning the UN delegation flew to the town of Mankien, which is located near the border with Warrap State.

A rebel force overran Mankien on the morning of 21 April, razed the local market and set ablaze a number of dwellings.

An SPLA counter-attack on the following day routed the militia fighters from Mankien and resulted in the deaths of 30 rebels, 20 SPLA troops and four civilians, according to SPLA Col. Mayol Lual Ayom.

The SPLA commander in the area told the visiting UN delegation that Mankien and environs had been secure for the past seven days, and the road to the county seat of Mayom Town was now clear for vehicular traffic.

“We already defeated the enemy and they have run away,” said SPLA Brig. Gen. John Chuol Nguot. “They want to create a situation that gives the impression that we have conflict in Southern Sudan, (but) we have an army, we have civil authorities and we are capable of governing ourselves.”

Mr. Lidder expressed his satisfaction with assurances given by Brig. Gen. Nguot and his commanding officer in Mayom County, SPLA Maj. Gen. James Koang Chol, that any emergency food supplies coming into the stricken area in the coming days would be reserved exclusively for the estimated 16,000 residents who have been uprooted by the recent fighting.

“Even if SPLA soldiers are hungry, they must not take that food,” said Mr. Lidder. “The world is watching and we need your assistance. Please give UN people access (to displaced residents) and give security to our humanitarian agencies.”