SSLA URGES UN TO EVACUATE NUBA REFUGEES
November 15, 2011 (SSNA) — Once again the South Sudan Liberation Army/Movement urges UNHCR to evacuate 15,000 Nuba refugees settled in Northern part of Bentiu town of Unity State because our forces will attack the town. The SSLM/A issued a press release on November, 11, urging the UN and the NGOs to leave Upper Nile State and Unity State within one week. So far only Oxfam responded and withdrew its personnel from Upper Nile State. We hope other NGOs and UN will listen to our appeal and evacuate from both states as soon as possible.
The deadline we gave to UNHCR to evacuate Nuba refugees in Bentiu is looming and yet there has never been a positive response from UN whether it would resettle the refugees away from war zone. The SSLA has no intention to hurt civilians or refugees. However, our field commanders are deeply concerned with Nuba refugees in Bentiu who are settled on the path that would be used by the SSLA to attack the town. Up to now, the SSLA is wondering why the UN is not listening to our appeal. Is the UN demonstrating willful blindness to what would happen to refugees should SSLA attack the town? It is our policy that no civilian should get hurt whenever we attack a town. That is why we inform them ahead of time to evacuate from the targeted towns. If the UN is becoming negligent by paying no regard to the possibility of harm, the SSLA is deeply concerned with the way UNMISS in South Sudan is being run.
The SSLA is doing its part to fulfill the international law by informing the UN to evacuate refugees before we attack the town. Civilian protection is our number one priority and it takes precedent over military secrecy. We have learned that the Governor of Unity State, Lt. Gen. Taban Deng, refused to resettle the refugees to use them as human shields so that if any refugee is hurt collaterally, then, he would persuade the UNMISS to fight the SSLA on his behalf because the SPLA army is not interested to fight for him.
We want to advise UNMISS that international law does not allow refugees to be used as human shields in any conflict. If protection of civilian lives is of paramount importance, the SSLA once again advises the UNHCR to seriously consider evacuating Nuba refugees in Bentiu. The SSLA field commanders do believe that it is difficult to guarantee one hundred percent the safety of refugees once they attack Bentiu town. That is why it is our duty to inform the UN to evacuate the refugees to avoid collateral damage.
It is the understanding of SSLA that the UNMISS would not wish to acquiesce to the orders of Unity State’s governor who wants to use refugees as human shields to persuade the UN to fight his war. We would advise Hilde Johnson that willful blindness and omission to do something right are by themselves crimes in international criminal law. If refugees get hurt when the SSLA attacks the town, the UNMISS would be criminally liable for refusing to evacuate them while the SSLA gave sufficient time to evacuate the refugees to safe places such as Western Equatoria or Central Equatoria. For time being, the SSLA will focus on liberating Upper Nile State, Unity State, Warrap and Northern Bhar-el-Ghazal. It is when these states are completely liberated that we would turn our attention to Juba and other parts of the South.
We seriously advise the UNHCR not to listen to misleading statement from Unity State government which was aimed at deceiving the UN because the SSLA will definitely attack Bentiu town. It came to our attention that Governor Taban misled the UNMISS into believing, erroneously, that SSLA has no capacity to attack Bentiu town. We want the whole world to know that the SSLA has a military capacity to attack any town in Unity State and Upper Nile. The SSLA attacked Mayom and Nhial Diew on October 28 and 30 respectively. The UNMISS witnessed that and it is difficult to fathom why the UN would be misled into believing mere propaganda of Governor of Taban which does not correspond with military reality on the ground.
If the SSLA does not hear from UNHCR by November, 20, 2011, our field commanders will launch Operation Ending Corruption on November, 21, 2011 by attacking Bentiu town. SSLA is led by capable field commanders who do not mince their words. It is our understanding that the UN would not gamble with the lives of refugees and should seriously evacuate those refugees before the deadline. The Nuba refugees in Bentiu are foreign to the area and would find it difficult to run to safety when fighting erupts. The local citizens of Bentiu town who know the area very well do not have any problem because they know escape routes. The problem is the safety of Nuba refugees who do not know the area and would find it difficult to know where to run to for a cover when our forces attack the town.
We appeal to UNHCR in the name of the safety of refugees to do something as soon as possible so that the lives of refugees are not endangered because of negligent. Both the SSLA and UNHCR have international law obligations to ensure the safety of refugees in time of war. However, it is very difficult indeed to guarantee the safety of civilians in a battlefield. Even the U.S. army, which has sophisticated weaponry, failed to completely guarantee collateral damages in Iraq. Therefore, civilian casualties would be avoided if the UN evacuates Nuba refugees away from Bentiu town before the attack.