UN Council approves 6,000 more South Sudan peacekeepers
UNITED NATIONS, United States / JUBA - Agence France-Presse
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks to the media following a U.N. Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. AP PhotoThe United Nations Security Council agreed on Tuesday to almost double the size of the peacekeeping force in troubled South Sudan, adding nearly 6,000 extra soldiers and police.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon had called for the UNMISS force to be increased to counter a major outbreak of violence, and member states agreed to increase the military contingent to 12,500 troops.
A parallel civilian police deployment will reach 1,323.
But the vote only increased the maximum permitted size of the force. Member states must still commit more troops to UN command, and Ban warned this "will not happen overnight." In the meantime, Council members demanded an end to hostilities between forces loyal to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and to his rival deposed vice president Riek Machar.
The resolution expressed "grave alarm and concern regarding the rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian crisis" and warned that those responsible for war crimes would be held responsible.
The 15-member Council mandated Ban to report back to them on the deployment and any additional troop requests within 15 days.
'Thousands' killed as South Sudan slides toward civil war
Thousands of South Sudanese have been killed in more than a week of violence, with reports of bodies piled in mass graves, the UN said as it moved to nearly double its peacekeepers there.
Large areas of South Sudan remain out of the government's control amid fears the young nation was sliding toward civil war, though Juba said its forces had recaptured the strategically important town of Bor from rebels on Tuesday.
The UN humanitarian chief in the country, Toby Lanzer, said there was "absolutely no doubt in my mind that we're into the thousands" of dead, the first clear indication of the scale of the conflict engulfing the country.
Earlier, UN rights chief Navi Pillay said a mass grave had been found in the rebel-held town of Bentiu and cited reports of at least two more in Juba.
The grim discovery follows escalating battles between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing his rival Riek Machar, a former vice president who was sacked in July.
The official toll nationwide has stood at 500 dead for days, but aid workers have said the number killed was likely far higher.
Witnesses recount a wave of atrocities, including an orchestrated campaign of mass killings and rape.
In a Christmas message to the people, Kiir said that "innocent people have been wantonly killed," warning that the violence risked spiralling out of control.
"There are now people who are targeting others because of their tribal affiliation.... It will only lead to one thing and that is to turn this new nation into chaos," he added.