While many countries are closing their missions due to the civil war hit South Sudan, Indian has no such intentions. On Friday, the U.S. became the latest country to announce the evacuation of most of the personnel from the Juba mission which would now run with bare minimum staff.
A team of senior Indian official that left for Juba on Saturday for an on-ground assessment, may in fact examine if the Indian Embassy needs to be further strengthened in light of key Indian interests, said official sources in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
The team, led by Joint Secretary (West Asia & North Africa) in MEA Sandeep Kumar, will also visit Adis Ababa which is becoming the focus of peace talks between the Government and an ethnic group led by former South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar.
All eyes are set on Addis Ababa because the South Sudan delegation led by former foreign minister Nhial Deng Nhial and representatives of Mr. Machar have reached the Ethiopian capital to meet mediators from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD, an eight nation regional grouping, with a host of special envoys and diplomats from western countries, who had actively encouraged the secession of South Sudan, on the sidelines.
The Indian team will also meet IGAD mediators who are supporting this political dialogue between the warring South Sudanese factions.
But one of the prime short-term purposes of the Indian team will be to examine the operational conditions of 2,000 Indian army personnel who have lost soldiers including a Lt. Colonel in South Sudan last year. The Army lost three men after its camp was overrun last month by members of a tribe hunting down those who had taken refuge. In a deadlier incident in April last year, five Indian Army personnel including an officer were shot dead in an ambush.
In last month’s incident, the threat to the remaining army men was rated so severe that they had to be evacuated by air. In view of the tough situation, the army eschewed usual rotational procedures and decided to send back Brig. Asit Mistry to serve a second term as the deputy chief of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
India has been vocal about its displeasure over being kept out of consultations on the current tendency to mix assault and peacekeeping troops. It has also spoken at the United Nations to go after the killers of peacekeeping troops.
India also has burgeoning economic stakes in South Sudan. Indian companies have 25 per cent stake in a South Sudan oil company whose crude is sent across Sudan by an India-built pipeline. The two Sudans are estimated to have the third largest crude reserves in Africa after Nigeria and Angola. Many Indian corporates are also active in both countries.
In view of its interests in the country, India had named a Special Envoy well before South Sudan became independent in 2011 and was among the first to open a consulate in Juba, four years before it formally became the national capital.