Washington — The United States will join other members of the U.N. Security Council in supporting an increased deployment of troops to South Sudan in response to "deeply disturbing" reports from the region, according to U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power.
Speaking to reporters after a Security Council meeting December 23, Power said the United States is circulating a resolution that would authorize an increase in the troop ceiling now in place for the U.N. Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS).
UNMISS has a mandate to help ensure stability in a country that gained independence in 2011 after a long period of repression by the government in Khartoum, Sudan. The number of U.N. peacekeeping personnel assigned to UNMISS is capped at 7,000, Power said. She said all members of the council have expressed preliminary willingness to increase that number, given the re-emergence of conflict.
The United Nations is reporting that 100,000 people have been displaced in the conflict between the South Sudan government and elements of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). Further quoting U.N. reports, Power said 45,000 have sought shelter at UNMISS camps.
"We call on all parties to protect all civilians regardless of their political or ethnic community and to respect UNMISS and its critical peacekeeping role during the crisis," Power said.
The government of President Saalva Kiir Mayardit has detained SPLM leaders on charges of planning a coup under the leadership of dismissed Vice President Riek Machar. A U.S. special envoy met with detained opposition leaders December 23 and reported they are willing to seek reconciliation.
Power said South Sudan must resolve this dispute through a negotiated solution, rather than a continued escalation of violence.
"The leaders of South Sudan face a stark choice," Power said. "They can return to the political dialogue and spirit of cooperation that helped establish South Sudan, or they can destroy those hard-fought gains and tear apart their newborn nation."
As reports of atrocities and human rights abuses emerge from the nation, Power said, she is encouraged that the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is strengthening efforts to document these episodes in order to ensure accountability.
From Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, "Mass extrajudicial killings, the targeting of individuals on the basis of their ethnicity and arbitrary detentions have been documented in recent days." Pillay added, "We have discovered a mass grave in Bentiu, in Unity State, and there are reportedly at least two other mass graves in Juba."