UNITED NATIONS: India’s strong concerns over the security and mandate of its peacekeepers in South Sudan found support from several UN Security Council members who unanimously passed a resolution that directly addresses the situation faced by Indian soldiers in the strife-torn country.
India, which has lost seven of its soldiers this year in the world’s newest country, highlighted issues related to the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) specially the difficult conditions in which the Indian peacekeepers work, standing in frontline of the violence.
Sources told PTI that India’s views were found to be relevant by the Council, with President of the Council Permanent Representative of France Ambassador Gerard Araud referring to this in his remarks at the beginning of the UNSC meetings on South Sudan.
India was also able to work closely with the “pen-holder country”, the US, in the final language of the South Sudan resolution that approved a temporary increase in the strength of UNMISS to up to 12,500 military personnel and 1,323 policemen from a current combined strength of 7,000.
India got “valuable support” for its view from Russia and troop contributing countries like Pakistan and Guatemala inside the Council.
India’s main concerns related to the mandate of UNMISS based on the Security Council resolution of 2011 that focuses on responsibility for protection of civilians as part of peacekeeping.
India pointed out that the sudden upsurge of violence between the two main ethnic groupings in South Sudan has the potential of unleashing a civil war, which would “alter the terms of reference of the presence of UNMISS completely,” a source said.
India noted that the main driver of the current violence in South Sudan is the inter-tribal or ethnic conflict, a concern that has been reflected in the first paragraph of the UNSC resolution.
Tensions within South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011 after seceding from Sudan, burst out into open conflict on December 15 when the government led by President Salva Kiir said soldiers loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar, dismissed in July, launched an attempted coup.
“Unless both sides agree to resolve their differences politically and peacefully through dialogue, the peacekeeping mission cannot be sustained,” a source said. . India also strongly stressed that its peacekeepers are deployed in small numbers across South Sudan in remote and inaccessible areas and are in the frontline of the “brunt of the violence” while protecting large numbers of civilian refugees in their camps.
The latest attack on a UN peacekeeping base in Akobo had about 40 Indian peacekeepers fighting against 2,000 armed attackers, who killed two Indian soldiers and wounded a third.
The UNSC resolution directly addresses the situation faced by Indian peacekeepers in “praising their professional conduct in protecting civilians sheltering in their camp while laying down their lives for the mandate,” a source said.
India also highlighted to the Council that the peacekeeping operation in South Sudan needs to be augmented significantly.
The UNSC resolution addresses this as it unanimously approved a temporary increase in the strength of UNMISS.
The reinforcement would be made through transfer of units from other UN forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Darfur, Abyei, Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia.
India has 2,237 troops in UNMISS of the sanctioned strength of 7,000. India lost five soldiers in an April attack in South Sudan and two this month.
The Deputy Force Commander is also an Indian, Brigadier General Asit Mistry.
India also wanted a reiteration from the Security Council that any action taken by its troops in upholding their mandate to protect civilians would be legally sustained.
“This is important because of the grey area of ‘human rights’ of civilians inside the camps as well of those attacking these camps,” sources said.
The UNSC resolution unequivocally endorsed that UNMISS has the full right to take action to protect its mandate and also issued a strong threat against those who oppose or attack the mission.
“This gives our peacekeepers the necessary flexibility to respond to the attacks against their positions,” India said.
India has been proactive in projecting what the international community needs to do given the deterioration in the situation in South Sudan, through public statements made at a UN meeting on peacekeeping, in crucial meetings with the UN Secretariat, including the Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliason. -PTI