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South Sudan government agrees to deploy regional force

AFP , Saturday 26 Nov 2016
Salva Kiir
South Sudan President Salva Kiir (File photo: Reuters)
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The South Sudan government has agreed to accept the deployment of a UN-mandated regional force in Juba, a spokesman said, after months of flip-flopping over whether to allow extra foreign troops on its soil.

Deputy Information Minister Akol Paul Kordit said late Friday that the "cabinet has resolved unanimously to allow the deployment of the regional protection force anytime from now."

His announcement came after lengthy deliberations during a cabinet meeting chaired by President Salva Kiir, but no details were given about when and where in the capital the force would be deployed.

South Sudan descended into war in December 2013 -- two years after winning independence -- after Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

Despite an August 2015 peace accord heavy fighting erupted in Juba in July during which peacekeepers failed to protect civilians, according to a UN investigation.

In response the UN Security Council authorised the deployment of an additional 4,000 troops from East Africa with a stronger mandate than the 16,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission UNMISS.

Kiir initially opposed the deployment of additional troops as a breach of national sovereignty but later agreed to their deployment on September 4.

Since then his government has been accused by the UN of dragging its heels and failing to take concrete action.

In October UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Juba government had proposed "significant limitations" to the new force which it said should only protect UN compounds and installations.

The UN wants the regional force to be authorised to use all necessary means to ensure security in Juba, including at the airport and to help protect UN premises.

However the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission -- set up to monitor the peace deal -- said it has been assured by government that "all outstanding issues" related to the deployment had been resolved with the UN.

Ban told the Security Council last week that the United Nations must clearly define what actions it is prepared to take in the event of mass killings.

"There is a very real risk of mass atrocities being committed in South Sudan, particularly following the sharp rise in hate speech and ethnic incitement in recent weeks," Ban said.

Refugees fleeing the western town of Yei to Uganda recently told AFP of soaring ethnic violence and how the army was using machetes to kill people accused of joining armed rebel groups.

"During the night you can hear shooting in town," said Sarah Kakuni, from the Pojulu ethnic group.

"When it stops, that's when they're slaughtering people with knives and pangas... Dinkas will open your door and kill you if you don't have their tribal scars," said the young mother, referring to the distinctive triple parallel lines many Dinka men have on their forehead.

Ethiopia and Rwanda will contribute infantry troops to the new force. Kenya was supposed to do the same but is instead pulling its soldiers out of South Sudan in protest at a UN decision to fire the Kenyan commander of the mission for failing to protect civilians.

The United States has launched a bid to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan, after US Ambassador Samantha Power said months of talks with South Sudan's leaders had failed to persuade them to opt for peace.

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