New York: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday commended the bravery of Indian peacekeepers who fought nearly 2,000 rebels in an attack on a UN base in South Sudan and vowed to investigate incidents of grave human rights violations.
Two Indian soldiers Warrant Officers Dharmesh Sangwan and Kumar Pal Singh were killed when the rebel Lour Nuer youth attacked the UN base in the Jonglei state town of Akobo on December 19.
A third soldier Indian Battalion Warrant Officer Mondal Shabul was wounded in the chest during the attack and was flown to Malakal where he was reported to be in stable condition.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) held a memorial ceremony over the weekend in Juba for the two Indian Battalion peacekeepers killed in the attack.
"UNMISS is protecting civilians at its bases, supporting humanitarian deliveries, monitoring the human rights situation and investigating reports of abuses. We have lost two peacekeepers in the past week and one was wounded. I commend our brave peacekeepers, as well as the mission`s staff and leaders," Ban told reporters here.
He said the world is watching all sides in South Sudan and attacks on civilians and the UN peacekeepers deployed to protect them must cease immediately.
"The United Nations will investigate reports of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Those responsible at the senior level will be held personally accountable and face the consequences - even if they claim they had no knowledge of the attacks," Ban said.
He pledged full UN support to the people of South Sudan.
"The United Nations stood with you on your road to independence," he said.
"We will stay with you now. I know that the current situation is causing great and growing fear. You are seeing people leave the country amid increasing chaos. The United Nations will stay with you," he assured the people.
"We will do our utmost to protect you, to provide the humanitarian assistance you need, and most of all to help the country regain the path to peace," the UN Secretary General said.
Ban had called a crisis meeting of his top advisers on the deteriorating situation in South Sudan and proposed reinforcing the United Nations peacekeeping force in the troubled nation in a bid to stem a conflict increasingly marked by ethnically targeted killings.
"I am determined to ensure that UNMISS has the means to carry out its central task of protecting civilians," he said.
UNMISS currently has over 6,800 troops and police in the country, where tensions burst into open conflict on December 15 when President Salva Kiir`s government said soldiers loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar, dismissed in July, launched an attempted coup.
Kiir belongs to the Dinka ethnic group and Machar to the Lour Nuer and Ban said he was "especially worried" by reports of ethnically targeted killings in the conflict, in which tens of thousands of people have been displaced, including some 45,000 now seeking protection at UNMISS bases.
UNMISS said as a precautionary measure to reduce pressure on its limited resources, it will relocate non-critical staff from Juba, South Sudan`s capital, to Entebbe in Uganda.
It has also relocated all remaining civilian staff from its compound in the Jonglei state capital of Bor to Juba. At the same time, the Mission is planning to reinforce its military presence in Bor and Pariang to continue fulfilling its mandate to help protect South Sudanese civilians.
The Secretary-General said he was sending a letter to the Security Council with his recommendations for boosting the protection capacity of UNMISS with additional troops, police and logistical assets.
"We are already approaching countries to help meet the new requirements. We are also looking at other peacekeeping missions, while taking care not to reduce their capacity to respond to threats where they operate," Ban said.
The UN chief pointed out that he has repeatedly called on President Kiir and opposition leaders to come to the table and find a political way out of this crisis.
"Whatever their differences may be, they cannot justify the violence that has engulfed their young nation," he said of the country which only became independent in 2011 after seceding from Sudan.
"They must do everything in their power to immediately ensure that their followers hear the message ? loud and clear ? that continued violence, ethnic and otherwise, is completely unacceptable," Ban said.
"Now is the time for South Sudan`s leaders to show their people and the world that they are, above all, committed to preserving the unity of the nation that was born out of their long struggle for independence," he said.