New York, 29 May 2015 – Eighteen months ago, Bentiu, like most towns in South Sudan, was bustling with the restlessness of markets, people trading and children going to school. UNMISS, the UN Mission in South Sudan, was busy supporting development and growth in the world’s youngest nation.
Today, a visitor to the UN Mission’s base outside Bentiu in Unity State, would see a sea of blue and white tarpaulin tents and hastily-erected stalls. The base has become temporary home to some 63,000 civilians seeking protection from the cataclysm of violence that has gripped the new state of South Sudan since the outbreak of the political crisis in December 2013. The town of Bentiu itself remains deserted, its main dirt road lined with the grim evidence of an ongoing war in the absence of a final peace agreement between Government and Opposition forces.
The story is repeated across the country. Today, more than 130,000 are being protected by UN peacekeepers in seven bases, with civilians continuing to arrive at UN protection sites as they flee unimaginable suffering and grave human rights violations.
The reality is that our peacekeepers are often the only hope for a better life for the civilians they are mandated to serve. In other places where peacekeeping missions are deployed today, there is little peace to keep. In some of the harshest conditions on Earth, UN personnel must negotiate complex threats each day amidst political instability, with large, often terrified populations to protect. They work to provide security in these places, while pursuing a political solution to ongoing conflict.