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South Sudan

Volume 573: debated on Friday 17 January 2014

I wanted to update the House on the situation in South Sudan and UK efforts to help resolve the conflict.

The Government remain deeply concerned about the conflict and growing humanitarian crisis, which has led to great loss of life, to more than 350,000 internally displaced people and 50,000 seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. That is why the UK has been active in supporting partners in the region to bring an end to this appalling situation.

The Foreign Secretary and I have been in regular contact with South Sudanese President Kiir, former Vice-President Machar and regional leaders to urge restraint and encourage peaceful resolution of the crisis. Sir Simon Gass, the FCO political director, visited Juba early in the crisis and met President Kiir and the British ambassador to South Sudan has been in regular touch with key figures. The Foreign Secretary has sent a senior envoy to the region to provide diplomatic support on the ground to the preliminary talks.

In New York the UK mission to the United Nations has lobbied strongly for the deployment of additional peacekeeping troops to the UN mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). UN Security Council Resolution 2132 (2013), adopted unanimously on 24 December, authorised a strengthening of UNMISS which will allow it to better protect civilians, and enable the provision of humanitarian assistance.

The Department for International Development has provided an additional £12.5 million to help civilians affected by the conflict. This included tents, healthcare and other vital supplies.

We have also ensured that British citizens have been able to leave the conflict zone. On 18 December, the Foreign Secretary authorised the evacuation of British citizens and the withdrawal of non-essential British embassy staff. Two RAF flights and one commercial flight assisted in evacuating more than 300 people including 95 British nationals.

However, the situation is still dire. The Government are particularly concerned about reports of serious human rights abuses in South Sudan. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) made a statement on 10 January demanding an immediate end to all human rights violations and abuses and stressing that those responsible will be held accountable. The Government welcome the work of UNMISS to monitor human rights violations and abuses. We also welcome the African Union Peace and Security Council’s decision of 30 December to establish a commission of investigation to ensure accountability for abuses and reconciliation among all South Sudanese communities.

Over the coming weeks, the UK’s immediate aims are to stop the violence and for substantive talks under Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) leadership to begin. Political resolution of the crisis will require involvement in talks of those senior members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement who have been held in detention since the start of the violence, and we have urged the Government to release them in accordance with due legal process. It is essential that all of South Sudan’s leaders now set aside their differences and show commitment to healing the political and inter-communal divisions that are threatening the unity and development of the world’s newest state.

Working with our partners in the region and in the broader international community, the UK will continue to use all means at our disposal to bring about a peaceful resolution to the current conflict.