UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A dozen police officers from Britain, Germany and Sweden have been banned from returning to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan after they left during recent fighting without consulting mission chiefs, U.N. officials said Thursday.
U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that their sudden departure affected "the operational capability of the mission and the morale of staff."
He said U.N. peacekeeping has therefore decided "to disinvite" the officers to return to South Sudan and informed the three countries.
U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said two British, three Swedish and seven German police officers were evacuated by their governments during the fighting.
That left about 1,200 police in the mission, which has a total of about 13,500 peacekeepers.
Hundreds of people were killed when opposing army factions clashed earlier this month in South Sudan's capital Juba. Forces backing President Salva Kiir bombing the home of former rebel leader Riek Machar, now the country's first vice president, and U.N. compounds sheltering about 32,000 civilians were also shelled.
Matt Moody, spokesperson for the U.K.'s mission to the United Nations, said in a statement Thursday that the U.K. temporarily withdrew two police officers from the mission because of the serious violence that was taking place in Juba at the time.
"Their well-being was our chief concern," he said. "This decision was communicated to the UN in advance. We are disappointed that these officers will not be allowed to return when the security situation stabilizes."
U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Nick Birnback disputed published reports of an internal memo from the department purportedly quoting U.N. officials as questioning if Britain is worthy of being a veto-power on the Security Council after the country withdrew its police officers.
"As for the supposed 'DPKO memo' to our knowledge it does not exist," he said, using the initials of the peacekeeping department.
U.N. officials said that while the decision to send home two unarmed British policeman might send the wrong message to other countries contributing police to the U.N. mission it would certainly not put Britain's U.N. standing into question.