UN to focus on protecting civilians in South Sudan

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to change the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in conflict-torn South Sudan to focus on the protection of civilians, following months of fighting, instead of on nation building.

South Sudan saw massive violence sweep the country in December, when fighting in the world’s newest nation broke out between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and those loyal to his former vice-president Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

Kiir fired Machar last July and accused him of trying to oust him in a coup in December, which sparked months of ethnic attacks.

An initial cease-fire in January failed. A second cease-fire on May 9 has led to a tense standoff in the country. The toll has been huge: thousands killed, more than 1.3 million people forced to flee their homes, including between 75,000 and 85,000 who sought refuge in U.N. peacekeeping camps, and the threat of famine because farmers couldn’t plant crops.

The eight-nation East African regional bloc known as IGAD has decided to send cease-fire monitors in South Sudan. Under the resolution adopted Tuesday the monitors, and IGAD soldiers who will protect them, will become part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission.

The council temporarily increased the size of the peacekeeping force to 12,500 military personnel and 1,323 international police following the outbreak of violence in December, but at the end of only about 7,700 military and 1,035 police had been deployed to South Sudan.

A senior U.N. official said the U.N. expects 20 teams of cease-fire monitors to be protected by three battalions comprising about 2,500 soldiers. Troops from Kenya, Nepal and elsewhere are expected to beef up the U.N. force, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because details have not been made public.

When South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July 2011, the Security Council established the peacekeeping mission with a mandate “to consolidate peace and security, and to help establish the conditions for development” and strengthen the government’s capacity “to govern effectively and democratically and establish good relations with its neighbors.”

As a result of earlier fighting, mainly with Sudan, the council added the protection of civilians to that mandate. But the resolution adopted Tuesday changes the mandate to concentrate on protecting civilians threatened by violence, deterring violence against civilians, and establishing an early-warning system to detect potential violence.

South Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Francis Mading Deng said the government appreciates the U.N.’s greater attention to protecting civilians “given the gravity of the crisis the country is going through.”

But he urged the U.N. “to reconsider its priorities” to keep nation building “high on the list of priorities,” warning that “failure to help build a functioning state could lead to serious problems which the U.N. and the international community might be later called upon to address.”

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