SDF duty put on hold; unit starts aiding refugees

Kyodo

Self-Defense Forces members participating in U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan have suspended their infrastructure building work and have started instead to provide support for displaced people seeking refuge from violence at U.N. facilities in the capital, Juba.

Col. Kenichi Igawa of the Ground Self-Defense Force recently told reporters that they are closely watching developments in the country mired in a growing conflict that could spiral into a civil war. They have no immediate plan to resume their original mission, Igawa, 45, said.

At two compounds for U.N. peacekeeping operations in Juba, around 20,000 people have taken refuge. GSDF troops are offering support to them by providing fresh water.

A base for the U.N. Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, or UNMISS, near Juba International Airport, was lined with tents and beds brought in by asylum seekers. Some people could be seen selling goods on a sidewalk.

In Juba, fighting since Dec. 15 between the largest ethnic group, the Dinka, and the second-largest, the Nuers, has left hundreds of people dead, including civilians, and triggered looting. Many who fled to the peacekeeper zone appear to be Nuer.

A 28-year-old Nuer man said that although daily necessities such as food and water are in short supply, it is too dangerous to go outside of the compound.

When the GSDF’s water carrier arrived at the base, people carrying plastic bottles and containers rushed the vehicle, and some of the refugees started fighting among themselves in a bid to get water.

At several locations GSDF troops have installed portable toilets, and they have also set up a tent at the entrance of their camp where they can offer basic medical examinations and treatment. Approximately 100 people visit the clinic every day.

The executive office of South Sudan President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, is heavily guarded by soldiers, and far fewer people are now visiting Juba’s city center following the recent battle. Several stores have closed down.

Many foreigners have fled the country by air. One U.N. agency worker, who escaped to neighboring Kenya, said ordinary citizens had reportedly fled to the outskirts of Juba as they feared further violence.

Igawa, who represents the SDF presence, said the killing of two Indian peacekeepers Thursday in an attack on the U.N. compound in Akobo was “a regrettable incident where our colleagues were attacked.”

Juba is 400 km from Akobo and the capital at present is relatively stable, he said, adding, “None of our personnel has been at risk.”