UN to double number of peacekeepers in S. Sudan
The UN Security Council approved plans on Tuesday to almost double the number of peacekeepers in South Sudan in an effort to protect civilians, as reports of mass graves fueled fears of a worsening of ethnic bloodletting in the world’s newest nation.
The move came as the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in the country said the death toll from the past 10 days of violence was likely now in the thousands, rather than the hundreds the world body had previously estimated.
“I think it’s undeniable at this stage that there must have been thousands of people who have lost their lives,” Toby Lanzer told the BBC’s Newshour program. “When I’ve looked at the hospitals in key towns and I’ve looked at the hospitals in the capital itself, the range of injuries, this is no longer a situation where we can merely say it’s hundreds of people who’ve lost their lives,” he said.
Lanzer was speaking from a UN compound in the rebelheld city of Bentiu, the capital of Unity state in South Sudan.
With some 45,000 civilians seeking protection at UN bases, the 15-member Security Council unanimously authorized a plan by UN SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon to boost the strength of the peacekeeping force in South Sudan to 12,500 troops and 1,323 police.
The additional personnel will reinforce UN bases where civilians are seeking shelter. However, Ban warned that “even with additional capabilities, we will not be able to protect every civilian in need in South Sudan”.
Violence erupted in the capital, Juba, on Dec 15 and quickly spread, dividing the land- locked country of 10.8 million along ethnic lines of Nuer and Dinka. South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 under a peace agreement to end decades of war.
Western powers and East African states, keen to prevent more chaos in a fragile region, have tried to mediate between President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and rebel leader Riek Machar, a Nuer, who was vice-president until Kiir sacked him in July.
“Whatever the differences, nothing can justify the violence that has engulfed their young nation,” Ban said after the vote. “There is no military solution to this conflict. This is a political crisis which requires a peaceful, political solution.”
The fighting is affecting oil production in South Sudan, which accounts for 98 percent of government revenue. Petroleum Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau said output had fallen by 45,000 barrels per day to 200,000 bpd after Unity state oilfields were shut down.
US Marines close
Dau said production in Upper Nile state, where most of South Sudan’s oil is extracted, is safe and outside the reach of rebels.
The Pentagon said on Tuesday it had moved about 50 Marines to Uganda out of the roughly 150 it had sent this week to Djibouti to assist with any possible further evacuation of US citizens from South Sudan. Uganda shares a border with South Sudan.
“This forward posturing provides additional options and the ability to more quickly respond, if required, to help protect US personnel and facilities,” said Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. Warren added that a refueling aircraft had also been moved to Uganda.
The deployment of the special crisis- response team of Marines to Djibouti this week followed an aborted attempt to evacuate US citizens from Bor over the weekend, in which four US soldiers were wounded when their military aircraft were hit by ground fire.
US citizens and other foreigners were evacuated from the same area a day later, but it is unclear how many US citizens and other foreigners remain in the country.
Newly arrived displaced families wait on Tuesday at Tomping United Nations base near Juba international airport in South Sudan.