Wednesday, December 25, 2013
UN send more peacekeepers to S-Sudan where casualties are feared to be in the thousands
Refugees camping in a warehouse of the UN mission in Jabel, on tjhe outskirts of the South Sudanese capital Juba. (Reuters)
The U.N. 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 state.
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 U.N. compound in the rebel-held city of Bentiu, capital of Unity state.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the crisis had displaced an estimated 81,000 people, though the real number was likely to be higher.With some 45,000 civilians seeking protection at U.N. bases, the 15-member Security Council unanimously authorized a plan by U.N. Secretary-General 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 U.N. bases where civilians are seeking shelter.
Violence erupted in the capital Juba on December 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. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had urged Kiir and Machar on Tuesday to accept a cessation of hostilities and begin mediated political talks. She said Donald Booth, the U.S. special envoy to South Sudan, was in Juba trying to secure a final commitment from Kiir and Machar to begin talks.China's Foreign Ministry issued a statement late on Tuesday calling on all sides to end the fighting and Ethiopia offered mediation. .
While Kiir and Machar have said they are open to talks, Machar said on Monday he would only negotiate if his detained political allies were released. Also the African Union's Peace and Security Council on Tuesday called on Kiir to "consider releasing the political personalities currently detained in Juba, in order to facilitate dialogue and to encourage them to contribute positively to the search for a solution." Kiir, however, said that he will only release political detainees, who accuses of participating in an alleged failed coup, if it can be proved that others were in fact responsible for atrocities committed over the last week. "I am ready for dialogue and to release [...] these people. I can pardon them if you can [show] me someone who would be held accountable for atrocities they have committed in this senseless war. If I leave them to just go, who would be held responsible?" Kiir asked.
Kiir said on Tuesday that government troops had retaken control of the Jonglei state capital Bor, a key town that last week fell to rebels loyal to Machar. This was, however, not confirmed. On the contrary, it was reported that forces loyal to Machar captured Malakal, the capital of the Upper Nile state on Tuesday.
which would mean that Machar now is in control of three key states.
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 shut down.