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On S. Sudan UN Says It Wants Uganda "Phased Withdrawal," Told Kiir?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 20 -- On Ugandan troops in South Sudan, the day after the US State Department told Inner City Press "it's time for those forces to begin a phased withdrawal," the UN through outgoing spokesperson Martin Nesirky said the same: Yes, it's time for the Ugandans to leave.

   Citing a photograph of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on a tank on the South Sudan border before flying to Juba, Inner City Press asked if UN envoy Hilde Johnson, historically close with the SPLA of Salva Kiir, has conveyed this position to Kiir.

   I imagine so, Nesirky said then added that he will check. Later his Office provided an update to Inner City Press, not on this issue but two previously asked about:

Subject: Your questions on South Sudan
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 2:46 PM
To: Matthew.Lee [at]

On your question from the Tuesday briefing on Bentiu, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports that the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) personnel are working in Bentiu and other parts of Unity State to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance. There is no evidence of any use of cluster bombs in Bentiu or in any part of Unity State.

On your question about cluster bombs, UNMAS has evidence that cluster bombs were used along the Juba-Bor road, but cannot determine at this time who used them.

  On UN Mine Action Service, we anticipate having more.

  On February 19 when the State Department's deputy spokesperson Marie Harf held a press briefing by phone from the Iran P5+1 talks in Vienna on February 19, Inner City Press asked her for the US' position on the Ugandan army remaining, and about the reports of cluster bombs. Transcript below.

  Harf replied that the call for "the redeployment or phased withdrawal of foreign forces" from South Sudan" was tied to the cessation of hostilities agreement that had been signed in Addis Ababa.

   That agreement is widely described as in tatters, or no longer relevant. Harf said "we have recognized the role the Ugandan forces have played."

  Still Harf said the US position remains they should "begin" phased withdrawal: "its time for those forces to begin a phased withdrawal." She said she'd seen the cluster bombs reports and would look into what the US is doing. Ambassador Booth, she said, remains in Addis Ababa.

  On February 14 a number of non-governmental organizations including the International Crisis Group and the International Rescue Committee wrote to Secretary of State Kerry, as well as to the Office of Management and Budget, requesting "an explicit FY15 budget request for a UN, or UN supported, peacekeeping mission in CAR either under the Contributions for International Peacekeeping Activities (CIPA) account or under the Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) account with language calling for assessed expenses of the CAR mission to be paid out of PKO."

  Harf emphasized that the US has airlifted Burundian and Rwanda troops to the CAR, and is "developing target sanctions" as one option.  She said she wasn't yet aware of the letter -- again, she was in Vienna -- but would check if it has been received, and what the response is. Watch this site.

Update: here is the US State Department's transcript:

MS. HARF: Yep. Our next question is from Inner City Press, from Matthew Russell Lee. Go ahead.

Inner City Press: Great. Thanks a lot. This is on South Sudan and also Central African Republic. On South Sudan, I know that the State Department back in I mean, it was February 8th had called for the redeployment or progressive withdrawal of the Ugandan forces there. So they pretty much rejected that, and I wanted to know if theres been any follow-up by the U.S.

And also, just relatedly, there was a letter from like 26 NGOs International Crisis Group, IRC, and others to Secretary Kerry asking for reengagement in South Sudan, but specifically asking for the U.S. to favor a UN peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic and to include it in its budget request for 2015. So I dont is there any reaction to that letter? Whats the U.S. thinking on engagement in the Central African Republic? Thanks.

MS. HARF: Yep. So let me start with South Sudan. So when we talked about withdrawal of foreign forces from South Sudan, that was really, as Im sure you know, consistent with language in the cessation of hostilities agreement that both parties signed last month. Were urging the redeployment or phased withdrawal of foreign forces invited by either side.

Our concern, obviously, has been primarily focused on ensuring the implementation of the agreement. We have recognized the role that Ugandan forces have played in helping defend critical infrastructure in Juba, on one of the main roads. But we do believe its time for those forces to begin a phased withdrawal again, consistent with the cessation of hostilities agreement and more broadly speaking, think its critical that all countries in the region play a positive role in pressing the parties to resolve their disputes peacefully, and that any regionalization of the conflict could have very serious consequences.

In terms of where that process stands, Im happy to check with our team and with Ambassador Booth on the ground to see what the latest is. Again, weve said that there have been on both sides in South Sudan violations of the cessation of hostilities, and we know there is still, quite frankly, a lot of work to be done there. So if theres more to share, Im happy to check with our team and do so.

In terms of the Central African Republic, I am not actually familiar with that letter that was sent to Secretary Kerry. Im happy to check in with our folks and see if we have indeed received it, and what Im sure well respond, but what that response might look like. We have, of course, been deeply concerned by the continued interreligious violence in the CAR, and call now for the urgent deployment of additional MISCA troops and police to support the French, the EU, and the MISCA efforts. We think at this point this is a critical step that must be taken immediately to stem the violence, which is, of course, so important.

Weve been supporting in a number of ways, including airlifting Burundian and Rwandan troops to Bangui, and well continue to transport, equip, and train additional troops that are identified. We are also developing targeted sanctions against those who further destabilize the situation, or encourage or abet the violence. Thats something were looking at right now. Nothing to announce, but thats certainly one policy option were developing.

Inner City Press: Great. Thanks a lot. Just on the letter, I think, was to the Secretary and also to OMB, and it was dated February 14th.

Just one last thing on South Sudan, if you dont mind, it was this report the UN, in fact, said that they found cluster bombs on the road between Juba and Bor, and theres sort of what Im wondering is, this is the U.S. is raising it as a concern, and the different types of ordnance elsewhere, but is this on the U.S.s radar screen? Is there whos going to determine who used them? Some people are saying that they could only have been dropped from the air, so it kind of narrows the people that could have done it. Im wondering, are you aware of that, and is the U.S. concerned or going to follow up?

MS. HARF: Yeah, Ive seen those reports. Let me check with our folks and see what the latest is on that. Obviously, we would be concerned about that, suffice to say, but I just want to make sure I have all the details before I respond further.

Inner City Press: Great. Thanks.

MS. HARF: Thanks, Matthew.


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