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17 December 2013 - South Sudan - Remarks to the press by Mr. Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, as President of the Security Council

We had a meeting on the UN office in West Africa. There was a general support to what Mr. Djinnit is doing, especially in three fields which are preventive diplomacy, the support to the peace process and the coordination for the Sahel. The Office of Mr. Djinnit should be in charge of the implementation of the Sahel strategy.

Afterwards, at the US Mission request, we requested Mr. Ladsous to brief the Security Council on the situation in South Sudan. The situation is not clear, it is in flux. The information we have received is fighting between soldiers of the South Sudanese army, of the SPLA, fighting which apparently is largely on ethnic lines between Dinka, who are faithful to the President, and Nuer, who are faithful to the former Vice-President. The President Kiir declared to the South Sudanese people on TV that it was an attempted coup conducted by soldiers linked to the former Vice-President. I am quoting the words of the President.

So the situation is quite obscure. What is obvious is the large number of casualties and the fact that thousands and thousands of civilians have taken refuge in the two bases of the UNMISS in Juba. The figures are quite high, I think around 15 or 20,000 civilians sought refuge, which is actually quite trying for the capabilities and the means of UNMISS in terms of medical support, food, water and protection.

The Secretary-General called President Kiir, and the Security Council will issue a press statement in the coming hours. The penholder is preparing a text. Around the table, there was a very large expression of worries. We are extremely concerned not only because it is an outburst of violence, and a quite big one considering the number of casualties, even if the number is not confirmed for the moment - but we know that it is high -, but also because apparently the fighting is on ethnic lines which could lead the country into a very serious and general situation.

So here we are and as President of the Security Council I said that it was the first reaction. DPKO has only very patchy information on the situation. In the coming days, according to the situation, we will organize another meeting of the Security Council on South Sudan.

Q: How far should the UN go to protect civilians in this case? Should they open fire if necessary in order to protect civilians?

It is a Mission under chapter VII, so we could fire if it was necessary to protect the civilians. But apparently from national information from my own embassy, from DPKO and from embassies of other countries, for the moment the civilians have not been targeted as such.

They are afraid of fighting in the street. But for the moment they are simply fleeing the fighting, they are not targeted. But I am a bit wary to be more precise because we are lacking of real precise information on a lot of circumstances. What happened for instance? Was it or not a coup? Why has this fighting occurred? It is something that maybe will appear clearer in the coming hours.

Q: Are you concerned that the UN is not able to give you more clarity on the situation or is it just a reflection of the difficulty of the situation on the ground?

The Vice-President resigned, the government has been demoted and the new government has been created on ethnic lines. So we knew there were political tensions. Our hope was that these tensions could be resolved through a political process.

At the same time, but it is a personal analysis, it is unfortunately pretty common in a country which is newly independent that, after the independence, the liberation movement which has been unified by the fight for the independence collapses into inner fighting. We have seen that in a lot of newly independent countries. It is not an excuse; at least it is an element of explanation.

Our Special Representative on the spot is trying her best to try avoiding the worst. First she has to take care of 20,000 civilians that suddenly you have to feed, protect and heal. We already had two births today in the UN bases among the refugees. She also has to engage into a dialogue with the authorities. And the situation is really in flux. So it is not surprising that we do not have a lot of information. From our embassies on the spot, the information is not much clearer.

Q: Is fighting occurring outside of Juba also?

For the moment, there is only one example where Dinka and Nuer soldiers engaged into fighting in Pibor, which led a few hundreds refugees to go to the UN bases.

Q : Is the situation going to impact the fight with the David Yauyau rebels ?

A lot of questions like these have been raised, including on the impact with the relationship with Khartoum, but we don’t have a crystal ball, the situation is really in flux. There have been fights for 24 hours. As I mentioned to one of the Council’s members, these questions are certainly relevant, but we don’t have the answer right now. We will need to meet again in 48 hours, so we can assess the situation on the basis of clearer information.

Q: Did the Under-Secretary-General give any estimate of the death toll? We are getting report of several hundreds.

There is a heavy toll, it’s obvious. There are figures which have been stipulated, but at this stage, I am not able to give precise figures, because nobody has them now. But there are heavy casualties; it is not a minor incident.

Q: Is the UN mission in a good position to initiate a mediation between both parties?

Yes, of course, it’s the job of our Special representative to try to engage. But it is not easy to engage because the Vice-President, Riek Machar, and his main deputy, Pagan Amun, have vanished and a number of ministers have been arrested.

Learn more on South Sudan.

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Organisation des Nations Unies Présidence de la République France Diplomatie La France à l'Office des Nations Unies à Genève Union Européenne Première réunion de l'ONU