By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations slammed South Sudan's President Salva Kiir on Wednesday for hindering efforts to protect civilians by blocking U.N. attack helicopters and surveillance drones and declaring that U.N. personnel caught taking photos will be deemed spies.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said the world body's mission in South Sudan wanted to do a better job protecting civilians amid the country's civil war. Some 136,000 civilians are currently sheltering at seven U.N. sites around the country.
"We needed attack helicopters, request denied; we needed UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), request denied by the president to me, personally, three times last year," Ladsous told a U.N. Security Council meeting on peacekeeping operations.
The South Sudan capital city "Juba did declare some of our senior personnel persona non grata, if you look at the fact that yesterday it was announced that U.N. personnel taking pictures will be considered a spy, I think this raises a number of concerns," he said.
Ladsous said the movements of peacekeepers had also been restricted during the 18-month conflict in the world's newest state, which seceded from Sudan in 2011. There are some 12,000 U.N. troops and police in South Sudan.
The South Sudan mission to the United Nations was not immediately available to comment on the accusations by Ladsous.
Forces loyal to Kiir are pitted against rebels allied to former Vice President Riek Machar in a war that tends to follow ethnic lines - Kiir is an ethnic Dinka and Machar is Nuer. Several cease-fires have been agreed but broken.
The 15-member Security Council has long-threatened to blacklist anyone undermining security or interfering with the peace process in South Sudan, but has not sanctioned anyone yet.
South Sudan U.N. force commander Lieutenant-General Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam, of Ethiopia, told the Security Council that the sites where peacekeepers were protecting civilians were increasingly being targeted.
He said restrictions by the parties to the conflict "fundamentally hamper" the U.N. mission and "negate the principle that the authorities, and not we as the peacekeepers, have the primary responsibility of protecting civilians."
"The Security Council plays an important role in holding accountable those who harm civilians, or directly obstruct our efforts to protects them," Tesfamariam told the council.
Thousands have been killed in the violence and more than 1.5 million people have been displaced in South Sudan, while a further 500,000 have fled to neighboring countries, the United Nations has said.
About a third of the nation's 11 million people rely on food aid and other assistance.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alan Crosby)