BENTIU – Political leaders in South Sudan’s Unity state have voted to expel a United Nations diplomat in response to a report accusing the army and other armed groups of abusing civilians.
A South Sudanese official said lawmakers decided at a state cabinet meeting to expel Mary Cummins, leader of the state’s UN mission (UNMISS).
The report released by the UN human rights division on June 30 included testimonies from 115 victims and eyewitnesses from five Unity state counties. It revealed fighters from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) abducted and sexually abused girls and women, killed civilians, and looted and destroyed villages.
In May, political officials in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, also expelled UN relief coordinator Toby Lanzer without explanation.
UNMISS spokesman Joe Contreras said the mission is aware of the reports that Cummins shouldn’t return to the area. But South Sudan’s presidential spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, said the national government has yet to receive any request from Unity state to expel Cummins.
South Sudan is still considered the world’s newest nation after it seceded from Sudan in 2011. But by December 2013, the country began to struggle as a civil war broke out. The political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar ignited the conflict. Machar now heads rebel forces controlling some parts of the country.
“It’s a terrible situation when you think of all the hope we had for South Sudan four years ago,” said Elizabeth Ferris of The Brookings Institute.
Since then, the UN reports fighting has forced more than 1.5 million from their homes.
“It’s still increasing,” Ferris said. “There’s about 770,000 refugees who’ve fled the country. There’s no prospect of them going back.”
Ferris said for peace to return, leaders in the African Union need to actively get involved and the internal political strife must be addressed: “It just seems like a greedy struggle of power between people who don’t care.”