Senior officials headed to South Sudan to meet Indians

New Delhi, Jan 1: India is sending a team of senior officials to assess the political and security situation in violence-wracked South Sudan, meet the around 250 remaining Indian nationals there and review arrangements at the Indian mission in Juba.

According to official sources, the team of officials is to leave by the end of the week.

They would interact with Indian nationals in South Sudan, review the arrangements currently in place for the small staff in the Indian Mission at Juba and also discuss matters with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Around 2,000 Indian peacekeepers are serving in the UNMISS.

Brig. Asit Mistri who was the deputy forces commander of the UNMISS, and had returned to India on completion of his normal tour of duty, has rejoined at the same post in view of the current situation, the sources added.

Two Indian peacekeepers were killed earlier this month when about 2,000 rebels ransacked their temporary base in South Sudan’s troubled Jonglei state.

The Indian team’s visit comes as fighting continues in South Sudan. Political rivals President Salva Kiir and ousted vice president Riek Machar agreed to hold talks in Ethiopia Wednesday aimed at ending the violence that has claimed 1,000 lives since Dec 15.

According to the source, there were 1,000 Indian nationals residing in South Sudan when violence broke out on Dec 15. Since then, many have left by air and road to neighbouring countries or beyond.

There are still about 250 Indian nationals in South Sudan. The Indian Mission has been regularly interacting with all sections of the Indian community and has reported that their morale remains high.

In Palouge, in Upper Nile State, there are 68 Indians, all from Tamil Nadu, working for Dar Petroleum Operating Company (DPOC) jointly owned by CNPC of China and Petronas of Malaysia. They are contracted by SUDD Services and Investment Company Limited, Juba.

The Mission is in touch with the South Sudan’s petroleum ministry and the chief of DPOC who has assured that Indian nationals are safe and they would be evacuated by the company if the situation so warrants.

In Bentiu in Unity State, four Indian nationals are working for Russia’s Safinat Caspian Oil Refining Company. The company will evacuate Indian and Russian nationals if and when required.

In Wau, Western Bahr El Ghazal State, there are 17 Indian nationals working with Omaski Borehole Company. As the situation is peaceful in this state, the company has conveyed that its employees would stay, said the sources.

In Juba, Central Equatoria State, there are 40 Indian employees of Tristar, a Dubai-based company contracted by UNMISS to supply fuel to UNMISS locations in Juba and elsewhere in the country. The company will look after the security of these employees.

In addition, there are about 90-100 other Indian nationals in Juba.

Of them, 65-70 are working for three Indian companies — JIT Supermarket; Panorama Hotel and allied companies; and a construction company. The Indian nationals are staying in South Sudan of their own volition as all Indians have been advised to depart using available commercial flights.

The officials will also be visiting Addis Ababa to understand the regional approach to the current situation in South Sudan and hold discussions with Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) partners, the sources said.

IANS