Sunday, December 23, 2012

United Nations Says South Sudan Threatens Its Peacekeeping Mission

December 23, 2012

U.N. Says South Sudan Threatens Its Peacekeeping Mission

New York Times

KAMPALA, Uganda — The United Nations said Sunday that the shooting down of one of its helicopters in South Sudan last week was just the latest in a series of attacks or threats against its peacekeeping mission by South Sudan’s military.

A spokesman for the United Nations in New York said the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan had “shared all flight information” with South Sudanese authorities on Friday before the helicopter was shot down over the region of Jonglei, where the South Sudanese military is fighting an armed rebellion. All four Russian crew members on board were killed.

South Sudan has said that it contacted the United Nations about a helicopter in the area, and that the United Nations said it had no flights there. The military, known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, then shot down the helicopter, saying it suspected that it was supplying weapons to rebels.

The United Nations said Sunday that there had been similar episodes in the past.

“Since September of last year, there have been repeated incidents by the S.P.L.A., including shooting at U.N. aircraft, as well as some direct threats to U.N. peacekeepers,” said Kieran Dwyer, a spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping division in New York. “If the U.N. peacekeeping mission is going to be able to fulfill its mandate, such as in vast areas as in Jonglei, we must be able to fly our aircraft.”

Mr. Dwyer said the peacekeepers’ Russian Mi-8 helicopter was on a reconnaissance mission to look for new landing areas.

South Sudan originally denied that it had shot down the helicopter. Later, a military spokesman said that South Sudan had told the United Nations and aid groups that certain parts of the country’s airspace were off limits because of rebel activity, including the area where the helicopter was shot down. The military also claims that neighboring Sudan has been flying in weapons for the rebels with aircraft painted to resemble the aircraft of the United Nations or other humanitarian groups.

Col. Philip Aguer, a spokesman for South Sudan’s military, said that air-traffic communication between South Sudan and the United Nations had been an “absolute failure” and acknowledged that a United Nations helicopter had been shot at by the military over Unity State in a similar, previously undisclosed episode.

South Sudan’s military has been fighting a rebellion in Jonglei that independent analysts say is backed by Sudan. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

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