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Two British police officers have been banned from rejoining UN peacekeepers in South Sudan after they were allegedly evacuated by the Foreign Office without telling mission chiefs.
Their sudden departure is said to have damaged morale on the peacekeeping mission and prompted questions from UN figures over Britain’s future standing on the United Nations Security Council.
The officers were in the capital, Juba, to support efforts to build a police force when violence erupted between rival factions earlier this month, leaving hundreds of people dead.
The British officers, along with seven German and three Swedish officers, were pulled out of the war-ravaged country over concerns for their safety.
They were then “dis-invited” by the UN peacekeeping mission, who said lead co-ordinators had not been consulted on the move.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said their departure had affected “the operational capability of the mission and the morale of staff”.
The operation includes 1,200 police officers out of a 13,500-strong peacekeeping force.
Meanwhile there were reports that a leaked internal memo quoted UN officials questioning if Britain is worthy of being a veto-power on the Security Council as a result of the withdrawal.
The UN’s peacekeeping spokesman, Nick Birnback, dismissed the claims.
“The supposed ‘DPKO memo’ to our knowledge it does not exist,” he said, referring to the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
UN officials added that while the decision to send home two unarmed officers might send the wrong message to other countries contributing police it would not put Britain’s UN standing into question.
The Foreign Office stressed that its status on the security council had not been affected by the withdrawal.
A spokeswoman said: “The United Kingdom is a committed and active member of the UN Security Council and our permanent membership is not going to change.
“The United Kingdom leads the council’s work in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries including Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Sudan.”
South Sudan has seen a return to bloody fighting in recent weeks between forces backing President Salva Kiir and those loyal to vice president Riek Machar.
British officials arranged the removal of the two officers, who were based in Juba, out of concerns for their safety on July 13.
It is understood the officials had some communication with the UN’s police advisor before their evacuation.
The officers did not return to the UK and are said to be waiting on standby in Uganda to return to South Sudan when the security situation improves.
Before a peace deal was reached in August fighting in the East African nation claimed tens of thousands of lives and there are fears the number of refugees could pass one million.