East African standby force brings hope to wartorn South Sudan

Tuesday May 09 2017

Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) soldiers set off for Juba on April 11, 2012 for a UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

The beginning of the deployment of the Regional Protection Force is a major relief for the people of South Sudan who have been suffering from atrocities, displacement and war-induced famine.

The Regional Protection Force will improve the security situation and enhance the delivery of humanitarian aid to those who have been displaced by the escalating war in Upper Nile and the three Equatorias —West, East and Central.

The first batch of military engineers from Rwanda and Bangladesh arrived in Juba early last week, after the government of President Sava Kiir agreed to the deployment after eight months of resistance.

The real deployment starts in June through to July, with the initial troops from Rwanda, while contingents from Ethiopia, Nepal and Bangladesh will follow later.

The force, which will be led by Brig-Gen Jean Mupenzi from Rwanda, is expected to free the 13,000 United Nations Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) to advance to other areas that are experiencing fresh fighting.

Civilian protection


The force will also protect civilians from the proliferating ethnic militias that have been killing, raping and burning the houses of civilians.

Major-General Molla Hailemariam, the chairman of the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM), said the security situation remains calm in Juba despite heightened tensions attributed to economic difficulties, but there is fighting in many parts of the country.

“Large and small-scale offensive military operations continue in parts of the Greater Upper Nile region while fighting in the Greater Equatorias and the Greater Bahr El Ghazal regions is ongoing also. Citizens continue to be targeted by both parties and other armed groups,” said Gen Molla.

The force will also provide protection to the main routes to and out of Juba such as the Nimule Highway, which is central to trade between South Sudan and other East African countries.

Unmiss in a statement announcing the arrival of the first batch of the regional protection force, said: “The force headquarters has already been established in Juba under the leadership of Brigadier General Jean Mupenzi from Rwanda.

In addition, an advance party of a construction engineering Company from Bangladesh arrived on April 20, bringing essential equipment to begin the preparation of accommodation and working areas for the RDF in Juba. Regional troops from Rwanda will follow in June and July.”

The government has welcomed the advanced team, with presidential adviser on security affairs Tut Kew Gatluak attributing the delay to the UN, which was not cleared with the government on what type of arms the force was to bring along with them.

Kenya army redeployment

In March, Chiefs of General Staff from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) countries, visited the area to work on the modalities of deployment.

Rwanda and Ethiopia have all along been ready to send troops to South Sudan, but Kenya — which withdrew its troops from Unmiss last December following the sacking of commander Lt-Gen Johnson Kimani Ondieki — is yet to make its position clear on its participation in the force.

President Uhuru Kenyatta while ordering the withdrawal last year, said that Kenya would abstain from the entire South Sudan peace process, but the UN and the Africa Union pleaded with the country to reconsider its position.

Diplomatic sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The EastAfrican that Kenya has held several meetings with the UN on the terms of the redeployment but the talks are yet to be concluded.

The UN Security Council had in August last year, passed a resolution to deploy 4,000 regional protection troops after fresh fighting broke out in Juba, forcing rebel leader Dr Riek Machar to flee.

Since the resolution, the government has been blowing hot and cold in regard to the deployment, forcing the UN to threaten Juba with sanctions.

Least costly solution

President Salva Kiir initially objected to the deployment of troops from Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia, saying that frontline states have vested interests in South Sudan.

Juba had insisted that it must be involved in discussing the deployment modalities, among them the mandate of the force, its weaponry, financial and administrative arrangements.

Mabior Garang de Mabior, the rebel movement’s director of publicity and public relations, told The EastAfrican that if the regional force were deployed, it will be the least costly solution to stop the sustained offensive by the government against ordinary people.

Besides the advance team of the force, 35 British troops landed in Juba early in the week to join the 200 that had been deployed to provide engineering and medical support to Unmiss and also help in protecting organisations providing humanitarian assistance.

Maj-Gen Molla expressed concern that the process of gaining access assurances and adequate resources from Unmiss is time consuming, meaning that the monitoring team cannot reach areas experiencing hostilities in a timely manner.