Addis Ababa — East African states say they will start deploying troops in South Sudan by mid-April. East African heads of states met in Addis Ababa to discuss the size and mandate of a stabilization and protection force in the three-month old conflict.
Lead mediator Seyoum Mesfin says that troops from East African countries should be deployed by mid-April, but he did not specify numbers.
"We should not wait until all the countries prepare and tell you that they send," he said. "The usual U.N. mission, they prepare the camps first and it takes them 6-9 months. We don't want to see this. We want to see the effective implementation of this mechanism at the earliest possible time."
Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burundi will send troops, and possibly also Djibouti. Each country is being asked to also prepare a standby force in their respective capitals, in case the troops in South Sudan need reinforcements.
Soldiers loyal to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir have been fighting rebels believed to support former vice president Riek Machar since mid-December, following a political rift.
A cease-fire was agreed to in January but has been repeatedly violated by both sides. Part of the truce deal called for monitoring and verification teams to be sent to South Sudan.
Seyoum says leaders at Thursday's summit agreed that the stabilization force will, in part, protect the cease-fire monitors.
"The mandate is protection and deterrence. They will protect the mechanism for the verifying and monitoring mechanism for the cessation of hostilities," said Seyoum. "They will also deter from any attack of critical areas that are of paramount importance to the country."
A request to deploy the protection and stabilization force by mid-April has been sent to the African Union and the United Nations Security Council. The deployment, if approved, will be paid for by the international community.