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South Sudan seeks to improve relationship with UN troops

Waakhe Simon Wudu
October 6, 2017

Despite earlier comments which highlighted a distrust between UN forces and state police, President Salva Kiir is now stressing the importance of cooperation.

UN troops in South Sudan
Image: Getty Images/A.G.Farran

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir is calling on the country's security forces to work together with the United Nations (UN) Regional Protection Force in an attempt to secure lasting peace and stability in the young country.

Kirr made the surprising comments as he addressed the state's police force: "Your role as security is not to fight these [UN] forces. You are not to fight with the [regional protection force] or the [United Nations mission]. You have to cooperate with them."

Since the outbreak of civil war in 2013, thousands of civilians have been killed and more than two million internally displaced.

The relationship between the UN troops and the government has been frosty of late, with each accusing the other of fueling the conflict. In an interview with DW in August, Kiir claimed that the UN were doing little to help the situation in their capacity as an outside force. However his apparent change of heart pulls South Sudan in line with the international community.

A difficult working relationship

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir is now calling on state police to cooperate with UN troops, despite earlier comments to the contraryImage: Getty Images/AFP/Z. Abubeker

Although South Sudan is officially a member of the UN and has signed cooperation agreements, working relations between the two have been frequently plagued with mistrust and breakdowns in communication.

Kiir's call for increased cooperation comes shortly after a fall-out between the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) in August, after UN troops set up camp at the Juba International Airport, with the government claiming they intended to take control of the airport.

"You need to really be vigilant," said Kiir, "Even if they are our friends, they are foreigners. They are here on a temporary basis, so let us take the time with them so that we don't fight with them.”

Improving South Sudan's international image

Executive Director of the South Sudanese Network for Democratic Elections (SuNDE), Rajab Muhandis, lauded Kiir's calls for improving relations with the UN troops, saying that it would likely improve the country's image abroad.

"We believe that some of our partners get disappointed by our actions in keeping the country at war all this time, but if we make decisions to create changes that will improve the situation – particularly the lives of citizens – this will improve our credibility and our relations with our friends."

Muhandis also believes the move will encourage other nations to offer their support to South Sudan towards improving the situation in the country.

Honoring past agreements

Political analyst James Okuk from the University of Juba told DW that South Sudan also has an obligation to cooperate with international institutions and relevant policies, rather than continue to foster a poor working relationship, because it has officially ratified agreements with many of these organizations.

"If they don't cooperate it means they are violating these agreements, because they are based between the government of South Sudan and the international bodies coming to operate in South Sudan," he said.

But for now at least, it remains to be seen whether South Sudanese forces will work together with UMMISS and seek to end the civil war.

New tensions between South Sudan government and UN