19 October 2010The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Sudan now has 24 helicopters, an increase of eight, to help move 120 tons of material for the January referendum that will decide whether southern Sudan declares independence from Africa’s largest country, a senior official said today. “We have a large mission support capability here in the south as well as other parts of Sudan to carry out the referendum,” the Regional Coordinator for Southern Sudan in the UN mission known as UNMIS, David Gressly, told a news briefing in Juba, the southern capital.“Our aviation assets will undergo a substantial expansion to meet the challenge of reaching some of the more remote polling and registration centres that will be established between now and next January,” he said.Two referenda will be held on 9 January, with the first, on self-determination in Southern Sudan being the final stage in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two decades of warfare between the northern-based Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The second in the oil-rich Abyei region will decide whether it is to be part of northern or southern Sudan.Yesterday, citing critical issues still outstanding and reported troop build-ups by both sides, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Haile Menkerios told a news conference in Khartoum, the capital, that the UN would increase its capacity as needed to prevent confrontations that could derail the entire peace process.“The main challenge is what everybody in southern Sudan faces, the logistical challenge,” Mr. Gressley said today. “It’s very difficult still to move around, even with some of the road construction and de-mining that have gone on, so logistics will be a major challenge and that’s one of the major support elements that we will provide.” The other challenge is the very tight deadline with less than three months to go. UN Integrated Referendum and Electoral Division (UNIRED) Officer-in-charge Meaghan Fitzgerald told the briefing that the 120 tons to be distributed include multiple types of materials, ranging from office equipment and furniture for state- and county-level offices to training materials for the registration, to vehicles and motorbikes to the actual registration materials themselves in terms of the books and the kits.“When we get closer to the referendum, they will also include the actual referendum polling materials as well,” she said. “So it’s a lot of materials.”The north-south civil war killed at least 2 million people, uprooted 4.5 million more, and forced some 600,000 to flee to neighbouring countries.
“From the latest information we have managed to gather, at least five people are known to have been killed and 92 injured,” Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters at the regular news briefing in Geneva.In addition, some 180 people were arrested – most have now been released.“The security forces allegedly fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas grenades, in some cases at point blank range,” she added. At the same time, Ms. Throssell said OHCHR believes the casualty figures from the 31 December demonstrations may be higher. “Our colleagues on the ground were denied access to morgues, hospitals and detention centres. They were sent away from these sites by defence and security forces, and so were unable to fully conduct their human rights monitoring work,” she elaborated. Security forces were also reported to have fired tear gas inside churches, stopped people attending religious services and stolen their personal property.“This is an alarming development that impinges on freedom of religion or belief,” she underscored, adding: “We call on the authorities to ensure that the security forces do not resort to excessive force when policing demonstrations, and that protests are handled in line with international standards.” Pointing out that “necessity, proportionality, non-discrimination and accountability are key principles that underpin the use of force for the management of peaceful assemblies,” Ms. Throssell maintained that the DRC Government must ensure that everyone is able to exercise their right to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, opinion and expression. There should also be credible and independent investigations into alleged use of excessive force, and those responsible for human rights violations should be brought to justice. “We once again urge the authorities to engage in a constructive dialogue with the opposition and to ensure that the right of all Congolese to participate in the public affairs of their country are respected,” she concluded.