Some eight months after the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of an extra 4,000 peacekeepers to war-torn South Sudan, the first of those troops have just trickled in amid bureaucratic hurdles by the country’s reluctant government.
“Meanwhile the situation in the country has deteriorated at a rapid pace,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a monthly report on the status of the deployment and obstacles facing some 13,000 peacekeepers already on the ground.
The 15-member Security Council approved the additional troops – known as a regional protection force (RPF) – in August, following several days of heavy fighting in the capital Juba between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing former Vice President Riek Machar.
The force is part of the UN peacekeeping mission known as UNMISS, which has been in South Sudan since its independence from Sudan in 2011. The country spiraled into civil war – with violence along ethnic lines – after Kiir sacked Machar in 2013.
“Deployment of some of the first wave elements of the RPF … has begun,” Guterres told the Security Council in a report, seen by Reuters on Thursday.
“It is indeed unfortunate that the first troops associated with the RPF have only begun to arrive eight months after they were initially mandated by the Security Council,” Guterres wrote.
Meanwhile, the UN human rights office said on Friday that South Sudanese pro government forces killed at least 114 civilians in and around Yei town between July 2016 and January 2017, as well as committing uncounted rapes, looting and torture.
“Attacks were committed with an alarming degree of brutality and, like elsewhere in the country, appeared to have an ethnic dimension,” a report on the UN investigation said.
“These cases included attacks on funerals and indiscriminate shelling of civilians; cases of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, including those fleeing fighting; often committed in front of the victims’ families.”
South Sudan army spokesperson Col. Santo Domic Chol told Reuters that the report was “baseless”.
But the report said: “In view of the restrictions of access faced by (the UN), the number of documented cases may only be a fraction of those actually committed. Some of the human rights violations and abuses committed in and around Yei may amount to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity and warrant further investigation.”