UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council stepped up calls Monday for regional troops in South Sudan, to help a UN contingent already there stem ongoing violence and stave off a brewing humanitarian crisis.
Olof Skoog, UN ambassador from Sweden, which holds the rotating Security Council presidency, said after a closed door meeting that the 15-member body was ramping up its earlier call for a speedy deployment of additional troops in the war-torn African nation.
"The members of the Security Council expressed deep concern that fighting continues throughout South Sudan, and that there are continued denials of humanitarian access to many regions of the country where the South Sudanese people are suffering and in need," Skoog told reporters.
The Council urged the Juba government "to work constructively with the UN on a swift deployment of the regional protection force and to end obstructions" to the deployment of additional peacekeepers.
The Security Council decided six months ago to deploy the 4,000-strong protection force in Juba to bolster the UN peacekeeping mission that failed to protect civilians during heavy fighting in the capital in July.
But a confidential report obtained by AFP last week concluded that efforts to put a regional UN force in place are bogged down in delays over visas, the allocation of land for bases and a dispute over protecting Juba airport.
Rwanda and Ethiopia are ready to send their troops to be part of the new force, with the first elements from a Kigali battalion able to arrive in late February or early March.
Kenya has also told the United Nations it was open to discussing its participation in the new force, even though it withdrew its peacekeepers from South Sudan to protest a UN decision to fire the Kenyan commander of the mission.
After gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan descended into war in December 2013, leaving tens of thousands dead and more than 3.1 million people displaced.
There is growing alarm over the humanitarian crisis in the country now at the start of its fourth year.
More than six million people -- half of South Sudan’s population -- are in need of urgent aid, and humanitarian organisations expect this number to rise by 20 to 30 per cent next year. — AFP