The African Union (AU) has approved a proposal to send a regional protection force to South Sudan with a “robust” mandate to contain the violence there amid criticisms of the failure of a similar UN mission. “The UN doesn’t have the mandate to impose peace,” African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui said at an AU summit in the Rwandan capital of Kigali on Monday.
“They are there where there is peace to keep. African troops are ready to engage in very difficult situations. It is our responsibility,” he added. The news comes as supporters of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebels backing his deputy, Riek Machar, reached a shaky ceasefire on July 11 after four days of violence. The clashes killed more than 300 people and forced thousands of others to flee.
The violence raised concerns of the revival of a civil war that gripped the nation in December 2013. The UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, has been strongly slammed for failing to stop the recent wave of violence and fully protect people. The new force will be similar to the 3,000-strong Force Intervention Brigade deployed within the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to Chergui.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) east African regional block on Sunday urged the UN Security Council to give it a robust mandate that would allow it to separate the warring sides and “pacify Juba.” Chergui said the international community would have to convince Kiir to agree to the deployment of the new force.
A bloody civil war in South Sudan, the youngest country in Africa, began in December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy Machar of plotting a coup against him. The two sides then got involved in a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the impoverished country along ethnic lines. Thousands of people have been killed and more than three million forced to flee their homes in the war. Nearly five million people are in need of food to survive a famine in South Sudan.
The two sides eventually signed an agreement in August last year to bring the conflict to an end. As part of the deal, Machar returned to Juba in April to take up the post of vice president in a national unity government. Despite the August 2015 peace deal, battles persist across the country. There are numerous militia forces that do not abide by peace agreements and are driven by local agendas.