Despite some progress achieved in South Sudan’s transition towards a stable, viable State, internal security challenges and political fault-lines — exacerbated by a recent spate of inter-communal violence — continued to render the new country fragile and threaten peace and security throughout the region, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative warned the Security Council last Thursday 21 March, 2013.

“The persistent violence and instability in South Sudan are deeply rooted”, and historical animosities among communities and old divisions and power struggles among political protagonists were pervasive, said Hilde F. Johnson, who is also Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). As a result, she said “new tensions are emerging from old wounds”, and those must be addressed.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNMISS, Ms. Johnson, whose briefing was followed by a statement by the Under-Secretary of South Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Charles Manyang D’Awol, said that progress made by South Sudan — an impoverished nation that formally split from Sudan in July 2011 — had been uneven since she last addressed the Council in November.

Relations with Sudan remained tense and the continuing proliferation of weapons in South Sudan had serious implications for regional security and stability, she said, adding, however, that agreements this month on the implementation of the 27 September 2012 cooperation accords with Sudan could significantly improve the situation. Plus, an easing of some of the economic austerity measures, with a restart of the oil production, would help to create an environment conductive to progress on other crucial political and security issues.

Still, South Sudan remained afflicted by internal security and political fault-lines, which continued to render the country fragile and which had potential spillover effects, she said. Those challenges, including inter-communal violence in several areas and activities of armed groups in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states, were destabilizing and posed grave threats to the civilian population.

The thousands of civilians seeking refuge in the United Nations camp from violent outbreaks in the country’s Jonglei and Western Bahr el-Ghazal states had highlighted the importance of the UNMISS mandate to protect civilians, she said. The situation in Jonglei, where threats posed by David Yau Yau’s armed military group continued, was also a major concern.

She told the Council that the South Sudanese Government had made clear that the window for dialogue on that front was closing and that military operations might soon be launched. In such a scenario, she said, the civilian population would be at risk from being caught in the crossfire. The United Nations had stressed that any military response must secure the protection of civilians.

Also worrying was the inter-communal tension created by the 8 February deadly attack on a Lou Nuer community in the Walgak area. Allegedly perpetrated by armed youth from the Murle community, the attack had resulted in the killing of more than 100 civilians. Efforts were under way to convince the Lou Nuer youth not to resort to revenge attacks. UNMISS had also developed contingency plans for possible Jonglei state scenarios, with a strengthened troop presence and an increased number of integrated civilian-military patrols.

In that connection, she said that the United Nations’ operating environment had become more difficult due to a number of grave violations by the Government of the Status of Forces Agreement. The most egregious of those occurred on 21 December 2012 when SPLA (Sudanese People’s Liberation Army) forces shot down an UNMISS helicopter, killing four Russian crew members. The United Nations had urged a swift and transparent investigation by the Government.

The humanitarian situation in South Sudan was also challenging, with a constant stream of refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile in Sudan arriving in the country. More than 14,000 new arrivals had been recorded so far in 2013. Meanwhile, humanitarian actors had continued to report access issues, the presence of weapons in camps and other impediments to their work. Returnees from Sudan also continued to face difficulties with sustainable reintegration.

Despite such hurdles, she pointed to recent progress, such as the establishment of democratic foundations with a proper legal framework for multi-party democracy and elections and concomitant functioning institutions. Work on reviewing the Transitional Constitution was gaining momentum, police reform was continuing, and a reshuffle had taken place in the SPLA and the South Sudan National Police Service.

Concluding her remarks, she said that every effort must be made to keep South Sudan on a path to stability and prosperity, for which the international community’s continued support was needed more than ever.