New UN chief says S. Sudan situation poses “huge challenge”

September 3, 2014 (JUBA) – The newly appointed head of the UN peace keeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said the situation in the country presents a huge task for her.

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Newly appointed chief Ellen Margrethe Løj speaks to the media on her arrival in South Sudan’s capial, Juba, on 2 September 2014 (ST)

Ellen Margrethe Løj replaces Hilde Johnson, who resigned in July after three years at the helm of UNMISS.

“I will need a lot of briefings and I will need to get to know South Sudan, but it is a huge challenge,” Løj told reporters on arrival at Juba International Airport on Tuesday.

Løj served as the special representative of the UN secretary-general and head of the UN mission in Liberia from 2008 to 2012.

The Danish diplomat was received on arrival by her deputy, Toby Lanzer, and the under-secretary of South Sudan’s ministry of foreign affairs, Charles Manyang.

Her arrival comes as the young nation struggles to find a way out of a devastating conflict that erupted in mid-December last year after an internal rift in the ruling SPLM party turned violent, reigniting tribal tensions across the country.

Thousands have been killed and more than 1.5 million displaced, with tens of thousands seeking shelter at UN compounds across the country after the conflict broke out.

Løj’s predecessor alluded to the challenges ahead at a final press conference prior to her departure, in which she lamented the widespread destruction and deep division caused by the conflict, warning progress and development in the nation had been set back decades.

The Norwegian diplomat played a pivotal role in the north-south peace process, leading to the completion of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ultimately paved the way for the South’s secession from Sudan in 2011.

Relations between UNMISS and the South Sudanese government have at times been strained since the conflict broke out, with critics questioning the mission’s impartiality.

The discovery of a weapons shipment in March mistakenly transported overland in a UNMISS convoy rather than by air sparked anti-UN demonstration in Juba, with some protesters accusing Johnson of bias and complicity in the killing of South Sudanese people.