The UN Secretary General has called on the Security Council to bolster the number of peacekeeping troops in South Sudan. The urgent request comes as Africa's youngest country appears ready to enter into a civil war.
In a letter to the 15-member states of the UN Security Council, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged them to authorize a stark increase in the number of troops already deployed in South Sudan.
"[The situation] is of mounting urgency," Ban wrote in his request, which included the addition of 5,500 UN peacekeepers and some 400 police officers to "ensure the protection of civilians and the protection of United Nations personnel and assets."
According to his draft plan, troops would be transferred from UN missions in Congo, Sudanese Darfur, Abyei, Ivory Coast and Liberia. Ban also requested three attack helicopters, three utility helicopters and a C130 military transport plane.
The Security Council plans to vote on the measure on Tuesday, according to France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud - as cited by the Associated Press news agency - and British UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
"The situation is obviously urgent and the Security Council will respond urgently. If it's necessary to take decisions, then we will take decisions by tomorrow," British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told the news agency Reuters.
Tensions have escalated in South Sudan - Africa's youngest country - since December 15 when South Sudan's former vice president, Riek Machar, was alleged to have attempted a coup.
Machar has denied responsibility, but has still called on current President Salva Kiir resign. The duo are long-time adversaries, belonging to rival tribes and having previously fought on opposing sides.
While the capital of Juba, where fighting initially began, has returned to a semblance of calm thanks to the presence of peacekeepers, the fighting has spread.
Hundreds of died in subsequent fighting since the alleged coup and up to 100,000 people displaced. Over 40,000 people have sought refuge in United Nations compounds.
Kiir plans offensive
Western powers and East African states had been attempting to mediate between President Salva Kiir and the former vice president-turned rebel leader, Machar.
Their efforts appeared to be in vain, with fighting expected to escalate drastically with a planned army assault on the Jonglei state capital, Bor, and the Unity State oil town of Bentiu predicted to take place some time in next few hours.
The army is "now ready to move to Bor," President Salva Kiir told parliament on Monday, adding the move had been delayed while the United States airlifted its citizens out of the country.
"We are making a major offensive," Information Minister Michael Makuei told the Reuters news agency. "... We will take over Bor."
Kiir has repeatedly offered to meet Machar for talks , but said he "has to come to the table without any precondition."
He now has his response, though Machar - in hiding "in the bush" - said he would only come to the negotiating table if certain demands were met.
"My message was let Salva Kiir release my comrades who are under detention and let them be evacuated to Addis Ababa [the capital of Ethiopia, where Machar prefers to meet] and we can start dialogue straightaway, because these are the people who would [handle] dialogue," he told Reuters by telephone.
"A ceasefire is always part of the negotiation, it cannot be done through telephone, nor can it be done through shuttle diplomacy."
Machar added that the rebels' control of Bentiu would not seek to stop the production of oil.
Fighting spreads from Juba
Conflict was reported on Sunday in Upper Nile, while Bor is the town in which rebel forces fired on three US military aircraft on Saturday. Top army officials are said to have switched their allegiances to the rebellion in both Bor and Bentiu.
"Everybody knows that Bor is a strategic location," UN humanitarian coordinator Toby Lanzer said. "It would be difficult for me to imagine a scenario in which Bor is completely calm and safe over the coming days."
US special envoy David Booth arrived in South Sudan on Monday to add his efforts to attempts to avoid an all-out civil war.
The US deployed 46 soldiers over the weekend to aid their evacuation of Americans in South Sudan, with 45 having already been sent to Juba to protect the country's embassy. The UN Mission in South Sudan said in a statement Sunday that all non-critical staff in Juba were being evacuated to Uganda.
With the number of internal refugees fast rising, the UN is seeking urgent financial assistance from the US, Britain and other European countries, Lanzer said.
- AP, AFP, Reuters