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Concerns Rise Over Looming Upper Nile Conflict

FILE - A South Sudanese army commander holds ammunition captured from opposition fighters in northern Upper Nile State, South Sudan, Aug. 19, 2017.
FILE - A South Sudanese army commander holds ammunition captured from opposition fighters in northern Upper Nile State, South Sudan, Aug. 19, 2017.

The United States, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) have expressed concerns over the likelihood of renewed fighting in Upper Nile State.

UNMISS joined the embassies of the three Western nations, known as the Troika, Wednesday in raising alarm over the reported buildup of a local militia in the South Sudanese state.

The mission said in a statement that Agwelek forces loyal to Gen. Johnson Olony should refrain from any actions or movements that could pose threats to civilians and impact humanitarian operations in Upper Nile and Northern Jonglei states.

“UNMISS peacekeepers are increasing their presence in the area, and the Mission is verifying reports of movements and mobilizations. The Mission continues to engage with Government, state officials, and other leaders to prevent any further escalation of tensions following fierce fighting that began last November,” it said.

The statement said South Sudan’s government is responsible for keeping citizens and humanitarian workers safe.

“South Sudanese transitional leaders and political actors in Juba have a responsibility to act to prevent this and to find peaceful and sustainable solutions. They also bear responsibility for ensuring the continued safe access and delivery of humanitarian assistance,” the Troika embassies said in a statement released Tuesday.

Last year, fierce fighting broke out between forces loyal to Olony and those loyal to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) faction of Gen. Simon Gatwech.

From August through December, Upper Nile State saw a dramatic increase in deadly communal violence with 200 people killed, 40,000 displaced and hundreds of homes burned, according to the U.N.

This week, the Troika said that fighting had subsided after government forces were deployed to the area in December. The three countries urged authorities to find and arrest perpetrators of violence.

“We also call on South Sudan’s leaders to hold accountable those responsible for previous subnational violence, including the most recent clashes in Upper Nile, Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area. This includes those who have engaged in human rights violations, abductions, and human trafficking,” the statement said.

UNMISS urged South Sudanese to use this week’s Juba visit by Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justine Welby and Moderator General of the Church of Scotland Iain Greenshields to work for peace and stability in the country.

“With the historic visit of His Holiness Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland to South Sudan expected to take place this week, UNMISS appeals to national and community leaders to exercise restraint and commit to peace and dialogue,” it said.

The three religious leaders are expected Friday in South Sudan's capital, Juba.