UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council Tuesday approved a recommendation to almost double the UN peacekeeping forces in conflict-torn South Sudan to better protect civilians from the ongoing deadly violence.
In a unanimously adopted resolution, the 15-nation body “endorses the recommendation made by the Secretary General to temporarily increase the overall force levels of UNMISS (UN Mission in South Sudan) to support its protection of civilians and provision of humanitarian assistance.”
There appeared to be no sign of a rapprochement between the central players in the crisis: President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and former vice president Riek Machar, who is a Nuer, as the ethnic killings threaten to overwhelm UN, US and African efforts to end the violence.
The resolution reinforces the strength of UNMISS to 12,500 troops and 1,323 police from its previous mandate of over 6,800 troops and police, as thousands of civilians in the world's youngest country were seeking refuge at UN bases.
As requested by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Council unanimously approved a temporary increase in the strength of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to up to 12,500 military and 1,323 police from a current combined strength of some 7,000, through the transfer of units if necessary from other UN forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Darfur, Abyei, Ivory Coast and Liberia.
During the day, the UN chief spoke to several leaders, including Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, by telephone to seek additional troops to bolster the capacity of UNMISS to quell the raging violence.
The resolution passed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorises the use of force, the 15-member council demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities and the immediate opening of a dialogue between the rival factions, and condemned the fighting and violence targeted against civilians and specific ethnic and other communities as well as attacks and threats against UNMISS.
Tensions within South Sudan, the world's youngest country which only gained independence in 2011 after seceding from Sudan, burst out into open conflict on Dec 15 when President Salva Kiir's government said soldiers loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar, dismissed in July, launched an attempted coup.
Last week, 2,000 heavily armed assailants stormed an UNMISS base in Akobo, in restive Jonglei state, in a brazen attack that left some 20 Dinka civilians dead as well as two UN peacekeepers, with a third wounded, and which today's resolution condemned in the strongest terms. “I have consistently called on President Salva Kiir and opposition political leaders to come to the table and find a political way out of this crisis”, Ban told the Council at its meeting, citing reports of ethnically targeted violence, other extra-judicial killings and mass graves. “Whatever the differences, nothing can justify the violence that has engulfed their young nation”.
He stressed that there could be no military solution to the conflict, reiterating his determination to ensure that UNMISS has the means to carry out its central task of protecting civilians.
“Attacks on civilians and the UN peacekeepers must cease immediately,” he said. ”The United Nations will investigate reports of these incidents and of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Those responsible will be held personally accountable. They should know the world is watching.”
The Council resolution demanded that all parties cooperate fully with UNMISS as it implements its mandate, in particular the protection of civilians, and stressed that efforts to undermine the mission's ability to implement its mandate and attacks on UN personnel will not be tolerated.
On Monday, Pakistan UN Ambassador Masood Khan called for “decisive” action to defuse the situation, but stressed the need for resolving the volatile situation through diplomatic means, rather than opting for a military solution.
Both in his address to the Council and at a later news conference Ban warned that even with ongoing support, the strengthening of UNMISS's protective capabilities will not happen overnight. “And even with additional capabilities, we will not be able to protect every civilian in need in South Sudan,” he said.
“The parties are responsible for ending the conflict. This is a political crisis which requires a peaceful, political solution, in this season of peace, I urge the leaders of South Sudan to act for peace”.
“Stop the violence, Start the dialogue, Save your proud and newly independent country, There is no time to lose”.