A team of engineers has arrived in the South Sudan capital Juba in preparation for the arrival and deployment of a 4,000-strong Regional Protection Force (RPF) to support the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in its mission to protect civilians.
The arrival of the preparatory engineering team over the weekend followed a green light given by Juba that it would accept regional troops from neighbouring countries to supplement the UN peacekeeping force already on the ground.
However, the government’s acceptance of the additional force followed months of prevarication.
Initially, the force was denied permission to deploy in the world’s newest country, with the government of President Salva Kiir warning that any foreign forces would be regarded as legitimate military targets.
However, subsequent to intense international and regional pressure Juba said it would consider their presence but under strict conditions which were subsequently modified.
The RPF was established in 2016 by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2304, the Voice of America (VOA) reported on Monday.
UNMISS released a statement over the weekend saying “the RPF Headquarters has been established in Juba under the leadership of Brigadier General Jean Mupenzi from Rwanda”.
The advanced Construction Engineering Company from Bangladesh arrived on April 20, bringing essential equipment to begin preparing offices for the RPF in Juba. Regional troops from Rwanda are expected to follow in June and July.
UNMISS said the RPF will provide “coordinated protection to key facilities in Juba,” and protection of the main routes into and out of the city.
The force will also strengthen the security of UN protection of civilians’ sites and other UN premises, according to the statement.
South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei said the Kiir administration objected to the presence of any non-African forces as part of the regional protection force and only gave permission for the Bangladeshi forces to enter the country because of their technical expertise, reported VOA.
Stating that he saw no reason for the presence of non-Africans, Mukuei was forced to relent when told that the technical expertise provided by these experts was not available in the region.
But Makuei said his government would not accept combat troops who were not from the region.
“It’s only the technical part that will be handled by non-regional forces. But the rest of the forces are supposed to come in as Africans, not only Africans, but from the region,” Makuei said.
UNMISS said the deployment of the regional protection forces will free up existing UNMISS peacekeepers to extend their presence to conflict-affected areas beyond Juba.