October 12, 2016 - 3:30 AM
JUBA, South Sudan - A confidential letter from the U.N. secretary-general says South Sudan's government is undermining a U.N. Security Council decision to deploy an additional 4,000 peacekeepers, risking an arms embargo as fighting continues in the world's youngest nation.
Ban Ki-moon letter dated Monday, obtained by The Associated Press, also lists several government obstructions to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in this East African country where civil war erupted in late 2013, including the demand that U.N. aid convoys to some areas include South Sudanese soldiers. Ban's letter calls that "a clear violation" of the U.N.'s operating agreement.
Under a resolution the Security Council approved in August, such a letter from Ban is meant to trigger a council meeting within five days to consider imposing an arms embargo and other options.
After a similar letter last month, the council discussed South Sudan behind closed doors but reportedly remain divided on an arms embargo. Meanwhile, reports of fighting continue in many parts of the country, amid concerns that the violence which has killed tens of thousands is increasingly ethnic in nature.
"What this report shows is that while South Sudanese have said the right things, they have not followed through," said Akshaya Kumar, the deputy U.N. director at Human Rights Watch. "If the Security Council and the U.S. let South Sudan skate by without an arms embargo, again, there will be a serious question mark about their credibility."
A Security Council visit last month did little to ease the hostility among some South Sudanese officials at the international community, with some accusing U.N. and other aid workers of helping rebel fighters.
Ban's latest monthly letter makes clear that South Sudan's government has not taken "concrete actions" to follow up on agreements to allow the deployment of 4,000 additional peacekeepers and to allow the U.N. mission of more than 12,000 to operate without restrictions. The government is "constantly changing" its position, the letter says.
The 4,000 extra peacekeepers are meant to protect civilians after reports of numerous abuses, including gang rapes, during a new round of fighting in July in the capital, Juba.
Ban's letter says South Sudan's government last week proposed "significant limitations" to the new force, including restricting it to protecting only U.N. compounds. The country's minister of information again has declared that the government must approve the force's size, equipment and troop-contributing countries in advance.
On Wednesday, government spokesman Michael Makuei told reporters that the deployment of the force probably would happen only after Ban leaves office at the end of the year — a timetable far longer than what the international community has in mind.
South Sudan officials also have indicated that the government will ask the U.N. mission to vacate one of its camps in the capital, Tomping, because the lease expired at the end of last month. The base is one where thousands of civilians have sought shelter from fighting.
That would be "debilitating to the mission and would represent a significant obstruction to its ability to operate in the country," Ban's letter says.
The U.N. chief also expresses concern at South Sudan's demand that its soldiers accompany U.N. aid convoys to Eastern and Western Equatoria states. In addition, all U.N. trucks must have army permission to go beyond 15 kilometres (9 miles) from the capital, and non-U.N. aid trucks going beyond that distance must be accompanied by soldiers, the letter says.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016