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UN Official Warns of South Sudan Fragmenting

A file photo taken Jan. 19, 2016 shows displaced people next to a razor wire fence at the United Nations base in the capital Juba, South Sudan.
A file photo taken Jan. 19, 2016 shows displaced people next to a razor wire fence at the United Nations base in the capital Juba, South Sudan.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Ivan Simonovic said South Sudan is on the verge of fragmenting and that the conflict there threatens the stability of the entire region.

Simonovic delivered his warning during comments on South Sudan to the U.N. Security Council on Friday, via a video link from Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Separately, the United Nations announced Friday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit South Sudan's capital of Juba on February 25, during a trip to Central Africa. He is expected to meet with President Salva Kiir and visit a U.N. protection of civilians site.

Simonovic said that despite small steps taken after the government and armed opposition signed a peace accord in August, rhetoric about reconciliation has overshadowed what he called the real story about deadly violence that continues, unabated.

“The parties continue to attack, kill, abduct, rape, arbitrarily detain, and forcefully displace civilians and destroy their property," he said.

Simonovic told the Security Council an increasing number of armed defense groups have emerged in response to the government’s "highly militarized" approach to addressing insecurity.

“With the diffusion of armed conflict in all parts of the country, and the creation of local armed groups fighting against government troops, South Sudan faces the risk of fragmentation and related human rights violations," he said.

Simonovic told the Council that human rights defenders and journalists have been intimidated, harassed, attacked, and detained.

He also detailed horrific acts of violence. “In Leer County, Unity State, a survivor told our staff that her village was attacked by a mix of [government army] SPLA soldiers and armed youth in late October. She described how the attackers locked up her grandfather in a storage room and burned him alive.”

Simonovic said new theaters of violence have emerged in areas that had been little affected by direct hostilities, especially in the Equatoria states. He said UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) has received reports of killings, sexual and gender-based violence, and the destruction and looting of property, particularly in Western Equatoria.

Simonovic urged the parties to the conflict to immediately cease all violations of international human rights law, and called on the international community to provide financial support to establish the transitional justice mechanisms as outlined in the peace deal.