Canada stays with UN South Sudan mission despite concerns

Canada has extended its small deployment of soldiers with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan this year despite concerns about its viability and soldiers' safety, an internal Canadian government memo showed.

A senior official said the extension would help to achieve the Liberal government's goal of increased UN participation, according to the April memo from Canada's foreign affairs ministry, obtained by Reuters under access-to-information laws.

Canada's Liberals, who took power last year, are eyeing a UN Security Council seat in 2021-2022, seeking to repair relations with the world body that deteriorated under their Conservative predecessors.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Sunday his government had reengaged with the UN peacekeeping mission, offering C$500 million ($373 million) and up to 600 soldiers.

Precise deployment destinations were yet to be decided and would depend on where Canadian soldiers would have the most impact, he said.

UN peacekeepers have been in South Sudan since 2011, when it separated from Sudan after decades of civil war. The country hosts some 13,000 peacekeepers, including those from the United States, Britain and Australia.

Canada's participation, dubbed "Operation Soprano," comprises just 10 soldiers, according to the Department of National Defence.

In the memo, Daniel Jean, then-deputy minister and now Trudeau's national security advisor, said Canada's participation in the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was "visible and positive." Continuing it was consistent with the government's "commitment to provide meaningful contributions to U.N. peace operations," he said.

"While an extension of Operation Soprano has been approved, concerns remain in connection with the safety of CAF (Canadian Armed Forces) personnel in South Sudan, as well as the overall ability of the UNMISS to achieve its mandate," he wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion.

A recent UN inquiry found a lack of leadership among peacekeepers in South Sudan, and that they failed to protect civilians. A top Kenyan commander was fired.

Canada's foreign affairs ministry referred questions to the Department of National Defence.

Asked about the memo, defense spokeswoman Captain Nicola LaMarre said soldiers were well-equipped to perform the mission and that deployment destinations were up to the government.

"We remain ready to conduct operations or implement changes to existing operations, as directed by the government," she said. "There is currently no plan to change the presence and personnel strength in the area."