By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - United Nations officials have questioned if Britain is worthy of being a veto-power on the Security Council after the country withdrew police officers from a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan during recent violence without consulting the world body, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
Germany and Sweden also withdrew police without consultation and the United Nations has barred all three countries from replacing the officers once the situation improves, said the internal memo by the U.N. peacekeeping department.
"The departure of the police officers has affected the operational capability of the mission at headquarters level and has dealt a serious blow to the morale of its peacekeepers," said the memo, which is an account of what happened and used by officials to inform U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Heavy fighting involving tanks and helicopters raged in South Sudan's capital Juba for several days earlier this month between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing Vice President Riek Machar. At least 272 people were killed.
Britain withdrew two police officers, Germany seven police and Sweden three police, according to the memo. It also said the United States was reportedly planning to withdraw nine police.
Britain is a permanent veto-wielding power - alongside the United States, France, China and Russia - on the Security Council, which is charged with maintaining international peace and security and mandates peacekeeping missions. Sweden was recently elected a member of the 15-member council for 2017-18.
Without naming Britain and Sweden, the memo said that for the states who are also on Security Council, their withdrawal of police from South Sudan "can be considered a lack of respect to their engagement on peace and security."
In reference to Britain, the memo said: "This also raises the question of their merits to hold a permanent seat at the Security Council and mandating others on how to handle peace and security issues when they themselves are quick to abandon their post in challenging situations."
A spokesman for the British U.N. mission said Britain temporarily removed its two unarmed police officers on July 13 "for the officers' safety" and had told the U.N. police adviser in advance. The spokesperson did not respond to the remarks in the memo about Britain's permanent Security Council seat.
The German, Swedish and U.S. missions did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed on Wednesday that some U.N. police did not stay at their posts during the recent violence in South Sudan and that they would not be replaced with officers from the same country. He did not name the countries.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Michael Perry)