UN council plans South Sudan visit to push for regional force

South Sudan President Salva Kirr. (Charles Atiki Lomodoong, AFP)
South Sudan President Salva Kirr. (Charles Atiki Lomodoong, AFP)

New York - The UN Security Council is planning a trip to South Sudan next week to persuade President Salva Kiir to accept a new regional protection force or face an arms embargo, diplomats said on Friday.

Ambassadors from the 15-member council are scheduled to travel from September 2 to 7 for meetings on the proposed 4 000-strong force to be deployed in Juba to strengthen the UN peacekeeping mission.

The mission, known as UNMISS, has faced criticism for failing to protect civilians, including dozens of women and girls who were raped near a UN base in Juba after a flare-up of violence in the capital Juba in early July.

Kiir's government has expressed strong reservations about the proposed deployment that was authorised by the Security Council two weeks ago and has called for further discussions.

"We want to know the mandate of this protection force," said South Sudan Vice President Taban Deng Gai during a visit to the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Monday. "We want to sit with them in Juba, not in New York."

The council adopted a resolution on August 12 authorising the force and threatening to impose an arms embargo if UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reports within a month that the Juba government is not co-operating with the plan for the regional force.

US Secretary of State John Kerry travelled to Kenya this week and said following meetings with regional foreign ministers that there was "absolutely no question that we need to move forward with the deployment of the regional protection force".

South Sudan descended into war in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup, and a peace deal signed last year was left in tatters during the flare-up in Juba in early July.

During the fighting Machar, who had been persuaded to return to Juba as part of the national unity government agreed under the peace deal, fled the country and is now in Khartoum, having been replaced by Deng in Juba.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the fighting, with the United Nations reporting shocking levels of brutality from gang-rapes, killings and the wholesale burning of villages.

An estimated 16 000 children have been recruited by armed groups and the national army in the conflict and 2.5 million people have been driven from their homes.

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