The United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan today voiced concern about reports of large numbers of armed youths moving towards the Jonglei state capital of Bor and called on all those with influence to convince them to immediately halt their advance and avoid a further escalation of the current crisis.
The mission (UNMISS) said in a news release that the youths have been reportedly moving across the state for some time, with a possible intention of attacking communities. It is conducting aerial reconnaissance over Jonglei to get a clearer idea of the numbers of armed youths and the direction in which they are headed.
South Sudan, which gained its independence after seceding from Sudan two years ago, has been embroiled in conflict that has increasingly been marked by reports of ethnically targeted violence. More than a thousand people have died and at least 122,000 displaced since the fighting began two week ago, with some 63,000 having taken refuge in UN bases in the country.
Conflict erupted after President Salva Kiir's Government said soldiers loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar, dismissed in July, launched an attempted coup. Mr. Kiir belongs to the Dinka ethnic group and Mr. Machar to the Lou Nuer. The youths marching on Bor are loyal to Mr. Machar, according to media reports.
The involvement of these armed youths in the ongoing violence would add a "volatile and unpredictable ingredient" into the precarious security situation currently prevailing in the country, and place the lives of unarmed civilians at even greater risk, the Mission warned.
"South Sudan does not need another escalation of the crisis involving armed youth, pitching communities against communities. This can end in a vicious cycle of violence," said the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of UNMISS, Hilde F. Johnson.
The envoy has been in contact with a number of political and community leaders, calling for their engagement.
"UNMISS calls on all parties who can exercise influence over the armed youths to convince them to immediately halt their advance," the Mission stated. "To avoid further bloodshed, these youths should return to their towns, villages and cattle camps to avert a further escalation of the crisis in South Sudan."
UNMISS reiterated its call for dialogue between representatives of the Government and Mr. Machar to achieve a peaceful resolution to the current crisis.