Three Indian peacekeepers were killed when about 2,000 rebels stormed a United Nations base in South Sudan's troubled Jonglei state, the second such incident in eight months in which Indian soldiers have died in the world's newest country.
“Unfortunately, just this very morning such militia groups have targeted and killed three soldiers from India in South Sudan," India's Ambassador to the UN Asoke Mukerji told a UN meeting on peacekeeping late on Thursday evening.
Mukerji later told PTI that about 1,500-2,000 people made a forced entry early in the morning on Thursday into the United Nations Mission in South Sudan base at Akobo, which at the time had 43 Indian soldiers, six political UN officers and 12 civilian staff.
About 30 South Sudanese people had sought shelter at the base from the turmoil plaguing areas of AkoboCounty. The ethnic Lou Nuer youths asked the Indian soldiers to hand over the South Sudanese people but the Indian soldiers refused.
The rebels then started shooting indiscriminately and killed three Indian soldiers. However, all 18 UN political officers and civilian staff were accounted for and safe.
Mukerji said Sudan People's Liberation Army, the national army of South Sudan, took the UN personnel to safety.
The force headquarters in South Sudan sent medical support to evacuate the injured and would later extract all the UN personnel, including the Indian peacekeepers.
"We want the UN Security Council to investigate and prosecute these people who have killed UN peacekeepers. This is the responsibility of the UN. We have been asking for this again and again and so far we have not seen any action on this," Mukerji said.
He said the UN peacekeepers are deployed to protect civilians and they work in difficult conditions. India is one of the largest troop contributing countries to UN peacekeeping missions with 150,000 soldiers deployed at various peacekeeping missions.
The attack is the second incident in South Sudan in eight months in which Indian soldiers have been killed. Earlier in April, an attack against a UN peacekeeping convoy in the mid-African country had killed five Indian soldiers.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was "appalled" to learn of the attack on the UNMISS base and said those responsible must be held accountable for their crimes.
Ban expressed deep concern about continued reports of growing violence in many parts of South Sudan, human rights abuses and killings fuelled by ethnic tensions.
He demanded that the South Sudanese government and opposition forces respect the rights of civilians and ensure their safety and security, a statement issued by his spokesperson on the situation in South Sudan said.
"The secretary-general supports the initiative of the ministers of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to support dialogue among political opponents. He calls on the government and political opposition to make good use of this opportunity to restore security and the democratic process in South Sudan," the UN chief's spokesman said.
Ban said the UNMISS is doing everything it can, within its means in a very fluid situation, where it needs to protect civilians as well as United Nations and international personnel on the ground.
The UNMISS strongly condemned the attack and said it was doing everything possible to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the assault on the base and secure the safety of its personnel who remain there.
"The mission fully expects all forces, whatever their allegiance, to ensure the safety of UNMISS personnel and any civilians located inside Mission premises," it said.
Earlier addressing reporters at the UN headquarters, Acting Deputy spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq said the situation in Jonglei has deteriorated.
Haq said civilians had gathered at the UNMISS Temporary Operating Base in Akobo where the Lou Nuer youth forced an entry to reach to those civilians.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said Ban is deeply troubled about the current situation in South Sudan. "The Secretary-General and I both condemn this attack in the strongest terms," Eliasson said.
He said the political crisis in the troubled nation urgently needs to be dealt with through political dialogue.
"Violence is spreading and could spread even further and we need all South Sudanese leaders and political personalities now to immediately appeal to calm and call on their supporters to suspend hostilities. Political dialogue is the only way to prevent further escalation," he said.
Eliasson said the peacekeeping force mandate includes the protection of civilians and "we will do our best to protect them in the compounds and bases where they are now housed".