“They need to come together independent of all other problems that have not been solved,” the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, told reporters today in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
South Sudan seceded July 9, leaving unresolved issues including the status of disputed areas along their border, and the amount it will pay to transport its oil through a pipeline across Sudan. With secession, the south took control of about two-thirds of Sudan’s oil.
Guterres urged both nations to separate those issues from that of the status of southerners still living in Sudan. He travelled to Khartoum today for discussions with government officials.
South Sudan’s secession left about 700,000 southerners in Sudan. Khartoum has said their legal status must be determined by April, though Guterres said it is unclear what form that might take. Secession has left them without papers defining their citizenship, or their residential status in Sudan.
“There is a problem that must be addressed, which is the problem of documentation,” Guterres said. Most are likely to want to return to their newly independent homeland, he said.
That migration would create logistical difficulties, Guterres said, noting the poor conditions on barges that take weeks to reach Juba from staging points in the north. The influx of returnees expected before the deadline will also add to challenges faced by South Sudan, which is already struggling to accommodate about 800,000 returnees, refugees and internally displaced people, he said.
The situation has been exacerbated by recent violence in Jonglei state, where tribal clashes have displaced about 60,000 people, according to Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan. The UN is preparing to airlift aid to Pibor county where members of the Murle tribe have been living in the bush without food, water or shelter for two weeks after fleeing attacks by about 6,000 armed members of the Lou Nuer tribe.
Grande said the humanitarian operation is “one of the most expensive and complex” since the signing of a 2005 peace deal that ended Sudan’s civil war. Of the four communities to receive aid, only one is accessible by road, leaving air transport as the only option. She said the UN Humanitarian Air Transport Service has only one helicopter and appealed to donors to provide three more.
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