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Humanitarian Emergencies

South Sudan Tense but Calm Following Intense Fighting: UN

File image: Peacekeepers patrol the South Sudanese village of Yuai earlier this year, before the rains. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 15 2016 (IPS) - The situation in Juba, South Sudan on Thursday was “tense” but “calm” following recent intense fighting, UN Spokesperson for the Secretary General Stephane Dujarric told journalists here Thursday.

“The relative calm has provided a window of opportunity for humanitarian organizations to respond and all areas where people were reportedly displaced have been visited,” said Dujarric.

“Humanitarian organizations are responding to the most critical needs, including distributing high energy biscuits, nutritional supplements and sanitary items, establishing family tracing and reunification systems, re-supplying of vital medicines, and providing light basic supply kits for the most vulnerable people,” Dujarric added.

A ceasefire announced on Tuesday has continued to hold, ending five days of intense fighting between rival armed forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar.

The violence caused thousands of South Sudanese to flee their homes and left many dead.

The UN Mission in South Sudan is protecting 33, 000 internally displaced persons in Juba, most of whom are sheltering in the protection of civilian sites and UN house.

It may never be possible to know exactly how many died during the fighting, Ellen Margrethe Loj, Head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) told journalists here via video conference on Wednesday.

UN staff and other international NGOs were among those who came under attack, in violation of international laws. The UN called Thursday for an investigation into these attacks.

“The stories we have been hearing are very terrible—including stories of things that are going on now, since the fighting stopped,” -- MSF Field Coordinator, Ruben Pottier.

Lof also reported that UN warehouses containing humanitarian supplies had been looted during the fighting, when UN staff had been forced to take shelter.

The maternity wing of International Medical Corps’ hospital in the Protection of Civilian (PoC) site in Juba, South Sudan, was also hit by shelling on Monday.

Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff reported that they had heard terrible stories from patients they were treating after the violence had subsided.

“The stories we have been hearing are very terrible—including stories of things that are going on now, since the fighting stopped,” said MSF Field Coordinator, Ruben Pottier.

“Today I met an eight-year-old boy whose mother and father were both shot and who now has no one to take care of him,” says Pottier. “I saw a girl of 12, her three-year-old sister in her arms, come for a consultation, saying she had lost both parents. My colleagues in the mobile clinic have seen at least three other children who came without any family, saying their mother and father had been shot.”

In light of the fighting the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called on Tuesday for neighbouring countries to open their borders to South Sudanese fleeing the violence.

However Amnesty International reported on Thursday that some South Sudanese may have been prevented from leaving the country by National Security Forces.

“South Sudanese security forces are deliberately blocking people from leaving the country in violation of their right to freedom of movement,” Amnesty said in a statement.

Thousands of South Sudanese people have reportedly gathered at the country’s southern border seeking to enter into Uganda, but they are being prevented from crossing over, the international advocacy organisation said.

“This arbitrary conduct by the South Sudanese security forces is totally unacceptable. South Sudan must respect people’s right to freedom of movement, including the right to leave their own country,” said Elizabeth Deng, Amnesty International’s South Sudan Researcher.

“It is absolutely critical that both parties to the conflict do not obstruct safe passage of civilians fleeing to places of refuge both inside and outside of the country,” said Deng.

On Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan, however the council’s 15 members are yet to agree to do so.

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