The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said Friday it has begun withdrawing troops from various camps around the country where tens of thousands of civilians sought protection during its civil war.
The camps were set up in the capital Juba and other key cities after civil war erupted in 2013, prompting thousands to flee to UN bases in search of protection, particularly from brutal ethnic atrocities which characterised the conflict.
Currently just over 180,000 still live in the camps in white tents, but UNMISS said that they are no longer under threat, six months after the country's main rivals President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar formed a unity government.
UN special envoy to South Sudan David Shearer told a press conference that UNMISS has started "to progressively withdraw" its troops and police from camps in central Bor and northwestern Wau.
"That has occurred because we assessed that, any threats that existed a few years ago, are no longer in existence today," he said.
The sites will be designated as more conventional camps for internally displaced persons under the control of Juba, rather than those being protected by the UN.
'Humanitarian services will continue'
War erupted in 2013 after a falling out between Kiir and Machar, and resisted multiple peace efforts until a peace deal was inked in September 2018, giving rise to the current unity government.
"Nobody will be pushed out or asked to leave when UNMISS withdraws. Humanitarian services will continue," Shearer said, explaining the sites will no longer be under UNMISS control and government has to take "responsibility".
"The South Sudan National Police Service will be responsible for law and order," Shearer said.
The UN has 17 permanent peacekeeping bases in South Sudan, with additional temporary bases in the dry season, and around 14,000 troops.
Shearer said that at least 150 soldiers and one or two companies of police -- each about 150 strong -- were involved in protecting the camps every day.
He said troops who had been occupied at the camps can now be redeployed to hotspots where violence has surged in recent months, such as eastern Jonglei.
UNMISS said some 600 people had been killed in ethnic clashes between local communities in the region in the past six months, in what Shearer said was a threat to the peace process.
"UNMISS has rapidly deployed peacekeepers to the areas most affected to deter further violence and to support reconciliation and mediation between the groups."
Meanwhile this week the UN announced it was establishing a temporary base in Lobonok in Central Equatoria, after the National Salvation Front (NAS) rebel group -- which refused to sign the peace deal -- stepped up attacks on civilians and aid workers.
"This surge in violence is deeply disturbing and is leading to clashes" between government forces and NAS rebels, said Shearer.