Kenya has withdrawn its first batch of peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The troops arrived in the capital, Nairobi on Wednesday afternoon.
The Kenyan government last week announced a decision to withdraw all its troops from South Sudan. Their position stemmed from the decision by the UN Secretary general to dismiss the Kenyan commander of the UNMISS.
Lieutenant General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki was fired after a U.N. inquiry accused UNMISS of failing to respond to an attack on a Juba hotel during fighting in the South Sudanese capital in July.
Along with the troop withdrawal, Kenya also stated that they had discontinued plans to contribute to a regional protection force and also to “disengage from the South Sudan Peace Process.”
“Today we have started our withdrawal from South Sudan,” Kenyan Major General Benjamin Biwott told reporters at Nairobi’s international airport as about 100 soldiers flew in.
He said further batches of soldiers from the roughly 1,000-strong Kenyan contingent would arrive in coming days, although he did not give a precise timing for completing the withdrawal from UNMISS, which comprised about 12,000 troops.
The general said Kenyan soldiers had taken part in peacekeeping operations in 44 countries over the past four decades and Kenya was continuing in its other missions.
“We are committed in our peacekeeping operations as a credible and well-trained force,” he said.
The Juba hotel attack occurred during several days of fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar. The two men have long been political rivals and come from different ethnic groups.
A civil conflict erupted in South Sudan in December 2013, but the two leaders signed a peace deal in 2015 that was meant to halt the fighting, but it failed to stick. Machar has since left the country and sporadic clashes have continued.
The security situation in South Sudan has been of concern to countries in the Horn of Africa region. The withdrawal of Kenya’s over 1000 strong troops will affect the already volatile security situation.