Kenya says withdrawing from S. Sudan after Kenyan head of UN force is fired

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks during the ceremony for the appointment of the Secretary-General during the 70th session of the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on Oct 13, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

NAIROBI (AFP) - Kenya announced Wednesday (Nov 2) it was withdrawing from United Nations peacekeeping duties in South Sudan after UN chief Ban Ki-moon fired the Kenyan head of the force for failing to protect civilians.

Continued deployment of Kenyan troops in South Sudan "is no longer tenable", the foreign ministry said, saying the country would "withdraw, immediately" its forces there.

In an angrily-worded statement, the ministry said it learned "with dismay" of Ban's decision Tuesday (Nov 1) to dismiss Lieutenant General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki as head of the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan, UNMISS force.

The move came after a UN special investigation issued a damning report, saying lack of leadership in the force led to a "chaotic and ineffective response" during heavy fighting in the capital Juba from July 8 to 11.

UNMISS has around 16,000 troops deployed in South Sudan, which has been at war since December 2013. Kenya has around 1,000 men, making it one of the largest national components.

The ministry said the government "takes great exception to this decision," and lashed the process as lacking transparency and consultation.

It accused the UN of failing to address UNMISS's shortcomings and "instead opted to unfairly attribute them to a single individual." "This action is not only wrong but also insulates the Department PeaceKeeping Operations (DPKO) from the hard questions it needs to answer, and the responsibility it must shoulder to facilitate the proper management of UNMISS," it said.

"The continued deployment of (Kenya's) troops in South Sudan is no longer tenable and is inimical to their safety and well-being," the ministry declared.

In addition to immediate withdrawal from South Sudan, Kenya will "discontinue plans to contribute to the Regional Protection Force, and... disengage from the South Sudan peace process," it added.

The fighting in July involved helicopter gunships and tanks pitting President Salva Kiir's government forces against those loyal to ex-rebel chief Riek Machar.

Machar fled the capital during the clashes, which scuttled international efforts to form a unity government and restore peace to South Sudan.

The UN report said the peacekeepers abandoned their posts and failed to respond to pleas for help from aid workers who were under attack in a nearby hotel compound.

Chinese peacekeepers abandoned their positions at least twice and Nepalese troops failed to stop looting inside the UN compound, the inquiry found.

Ban said he was "alarmed by the serious shortcomings" in UNMISS and demanded Ondieki be immediately replaced, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Ondieki had been the force commander since May.

UN mission chief Ellen Margrethe Loj of Denmark steps down at the end of November after more than two years in the job.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.