India may strengthen Embassy; U.S. begins evacuating personnel

While many countries are closing their missions in 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 officials 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 Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, 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 on Addis Ababa because the South Sudan delegation led by former Foreign Minister Nhial Deng Nhial and representatives of Mr. Machar have reached there 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 the IGAD mediators.

But one of the prime short-term purposes of the Indian team will be to examine the operational conditions of the 2,000 Indian Army personnel there. 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.