Gressly: New landmines limiting access

30 Mar 2011

Gressly: New landmines limiting access

29 March 2011 - To date, the UN Mine Action Office (UNMAO) and its implementing partners have released over 5.6 million square meters of demined land in Sudan's ten southern states, said UNMIS Regional Coordinator for Southern Sudan David Gressly today, and the next big challenge awaiting them is the clearance of freshly laid landmines in northern Jonglei State.

"One of the militia leaders who has taken up arms against the regional government has been laying mines in a pattern that makes them capable of taking out convoys of vehicles -- this would be the forces of George Athor," said Mr. Gressly at a press conference in the mission's regional headquarters in Juba.

He noted that UNMIS has had limited access to northern Jonglei State where fighting has been regularly taking place on account of freshly laid landmines and periodic misunderstandings with local Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) commanders, who sometimes refuse access. Mr. Athor's forces are based in that part of the region.

"We will work through each of those issues as we encounter them, but it would be incorrect to say that we have full access," he said.

Ongoing violence in the greater Upper Nile region that comprises Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states continues to be a source of significant concern for the mission.

"I have made five trips to the greater Upper Nile region this past month and have conducted a number of useful meetings with state and county officials, governors, et cetera as well as SPLA field commanders," he said.

Mr. Gressly noted that an increase in UNMIS peacekeepers in response to the violence in the region is not anticipated.

"Our force levels are actually mandated by the Security Council and we are at the maximum. The only way to increase that is for both parties, the Khartoum and Juba governments, to agree to that," he said.

He added that although there is a provision in the UNMIS mandate for protection of civilians under imminent threat, the primary responsibility for containing violence still rests with the Government of Southern Sudan.

With the UNMIS Security Council Mandate set to expire in April, Mr. Gressly said that the expectation is for the mandate to be extended to the end of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) interim period on 9 July.

Outstanding CPA issues that remain unresolved include the future status of the disputed Abyei border region, demarcation of the north-south border and the popular consultations in Southern Kordofan State, according to Mr. Gressly.

"UNMIS will continue to be fully engaged with other partners, including the AU (African Union) to try to seek solutions before the end of the interim period to these ... major pending CPA issues," he said.

UNMAO will be commemorating International Mine Awareness Day on 4 April with a series of activities in the Central Equatoria State cities of Juba and Yei and the Western Bahr El-Ghazal State town of Raja.

"The day will mark the destruction of a stockpile of landmines and unexploded ordnance belonging to the JIU (Joint Integrated Unit) based here in Juba," Mr. Gressly said.