By Deng Machol
South Sudanese security forces has detained, stripped, blindfolded and assaulted several foreign monitors of the country’s fragile peace deal earlier this week, according to an internal report by the monitoring body.
The harassment occurred in Luri, after the four monitors – army officers from East African countries that endorsed the September deal had traveled to an area some 20 km (12 miles) west of the Juba capital on Tuesday to investigate an alleged violation of the pact when the incident occurred, the Juba based group’s report said in part.
The national security service personnel reported detained the monitors and their driver, blindfolding and handcuffing them after forcing them to strip to their underwear, the report read.
The men were stripped to their underwear and the female member of the team was forced to strip naked. They were also robbed of money and a wedding ring. All were released five hours later, it said.
The report by the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM) called on the treatment of its monitors as ‘inhumane’ and said the incident was a ‘grave violation’ of the peace deal.
In a protest letter to the chairperson of Igad Council of Ministers who is also Ethiopian minister of foreign affairs, Dr Workneh Gebeyehu, CTSAMVM chairman Maj. Gen. Desta Abiche Ageno called on Igad to “publicly condemn the incident and demand that the TGoNU (Transitional Government of National Unity) immediately investigate the crime and hold the perpetrators to account.”
In the letter, Maj. Gen. Ageno says the team was detained for more than four hours when they attempted to access the South Sudan People Defense Force’s Luri Training Centre in Juba.
They had gone to the military training facility to investigate an alleged violation of the deal when the incident occurred.
“During their detention, the CTSAMVM team was physically assaulted and abused by being blindfolded and handcuffed, kicked and stripped down of their clothing,” the letter reads.
“The perpetrators of this grave assault — a total of approximately 10 men, some of whom were in military uniforms — deprived team members of their money and items such as a silver wedding ring and threatened to kill the team driver for having transported the team to the Luri training facility,” stated the CTSAMVM boss in the letter to Dr Gebeyehu.
Meanwhile, Joint Defence Board (JDB), chairman Gen. Gabriel Jok Riak said in the press statement, ‘this matter is under investigation and appropriate measure will be taken against the suspects.
He said the Board strongly condemns the act of harassment and promises to bring the culprits into the full force of the law.
“To avoid such incidents from occurring in the future, the Board urges CTSAMM on the need to work in coordination with the concern authorities,” Jok said, who is also the chief of general staff for South Sudan People Defence Force (SSPDF).
He said the Board sees the incident as an ‘isolated case’ that doesn’t interfere with the implementation of the peace agreement.
Observers call it the worst -ever attacks on the international monitoring group since 2016 when a member was killed. However, since 2015, the monitor has also faced several beatings, kidnapping and other inhumane harassment in the past.
South Sudan president Kiir signed a peace deal with rebel factions in September to end the civil war that erupted in 2013 and killed some 400,000 people, with a third of the population drive out from their homes. Its implementation has faced delays, missed deadlines and continued fighting in parts of the country.
The previous peace deal has quickly fallen apart in 2016.
CTSAMM was set up in 2014 to monitor a previous ceasefire in South Sudan by IGAD, a bloc of regional countries. The monitoring groups is tasked with investigating violations of the peace and bringing the warring parties together to build trust before they merge into single national army. The group is funded by the U.S, China, Britain, Norway, Denmark, the EU and Japan.