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South Sudan president considers new UN force

War in South Sudan has displaced thousands. Photo via @peterlouis6
War in South Sudan has displaced thousands. Photo via @peterlouis6

Juba, South Sudan | AFP |

South Sudan President Salva Kiir said Monday he is not opposed to the deployment of a strengthened UN force while expressing “very serious concerns” over the internationally-backed plan.

In a speech at the opening of parliament in the capital Juba on Monday, Kiir said more time and further negotiations were needed before the deployment of a new contingent with a stronger mandate.

“We need to be engaged in a discourse and exchange ideas on what is the best way forward, rather than be presented with a fait accompli from outsiders,” Kiir said.

On Friday the UN Security Council approved a US-drafted resolution backed by regional bloc IGAD to strengthen the 12,000-person peacekeeping mission, known as UNMISS, with 4,000 additional troops drawn from regional armies and equipped with a more aggressive mandate. An arms embargo was threatened if South Sudan throws up barriers to the deployment.

UNMISS has come under criticism for failing to protect civilians with its current force. About 200,000 South Sudanese have been sheltering in UN bases across the country since the war began in December 2013.

Kiir said he was “not instinctively or automatically” against the UN-mandated force but called for further “consultation and dialogue” and insisted sovereignty comes first, winning cheers from the assembled MPs in a parliament dominated by his loyalists.

“We welcome assistance, we are attentive to advice. But assistance requires dialogue, it should not turn into an imposition that becomes an intervention, in which our sovereignty is compromised and our ability to govern effectively diminishes,” Kiir said.

South Sudan’s latest civil war began in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup. The fighting has split the country along ethnic lines and driven it to the brink of collapse.

A peace deal signed between the government and rebels almost a year ago has so far failed to end the conflict, with the latest deadly flare up killing hundreds in Juba last month.

Kiir — a former guerrilla commander — also promised to reform the military and make it “completely subordinate to the authority of a civilian government.”

Without offering any details of how opposing factions might be reconciled, Kiir promised to create a single national army by May 2016.

“The unnatural reality of one country and two armies coexisting side by side is dysfunctional and already proven to be disastrous as we witnessed during July’s tragic events,” he said.

Kiir also promised alleged abuses committed by soldiers — including rape, murder and looting — would be investigated and called for more international financial assistance to help rebuild the economy.

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