South Sudan President Salva Kiir on Wednesday ordered South Sudanese police to cooperate with a new 4,000-strong United Nations force being deployed in the capital Juba.
Kiir’s government has been reluctant to accept the so-called Regional Protection Force (RPF), which is in addition to 12,000 existing UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) peacekeepers.
It was mandated specifically to protect civilians in the capital after violence rocked the city in July last year.
“You are not to fight the RPF or the forces of the UNMISS, you have to cooperate with them,” Kiir told hundreds of police officers gathered to hear his address.
Deployment of the RPF began last month with the arrival of Rwandan troops but was quickly mired in controversy after the government accused the UN of trying to seize control of the airport, which is adjacent to the main UN base where the peacekeepers are stationed.
“They are here on a temporary basis, if we didn’t fight among ourselves these people wouldn’t have come here,” said Kiir, striking a more conciliatory tone than in the past.
Kiir’s words echoed those of US ambassador to the UN Nikki Hailey who on Tuesday complained that UN operations in South Sudan “are continually frustrated”.
“We call on the government of South Sudan to welcome the assistance of the UN Mission and to cooperate with it,” Hailey said.
Around 600 RPF troops have arrived in Juba with more due next month. They are specifically tasked with providing security and protecting civilians in and around Juba, jobs usually carried out by police.
South Sudan’s civil war since late 2013 has uprooted a third of its 12 million people and left tens of thousands dead.