UN chief wants to nearly double peacekeeping force in South Sudan

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon advised the Security Council that 5,500 additional soldiers and over 400 more police should be sent to South Sudan to reinforce the current UN mission there amid increasing violence in the fledgling nation.

Additional security forces would add to the nearly 7,000 soldiers that currently make up the UN mission in South Sudan. The reinforcements would come from other UN missions in Africa, according to a letter from Ban to the Security Council, AFP reported.

The Secretary-General said earlier Monday from UN headquarters in New York that allegations of rights violations in South Sudan will be investigated.

“[The UN Mission in South Sudan] is protecting civilians at its bases, supporting humanitarian deliveries, monitoring the human rights situation and investigating reports of abuses,” he said. “We have lost two peacekeepers in the past week and one was wounded. I commend our brave peacekeepers, as well as the mission’s staff and leaders."

Two Indian peacekeepers were killed last week during an alleged rebel ambush on a UN compound.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the country amid fighting between rebels supporting former Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir’s forces. Last week, Machar denied he was preparing a coup, as alleged by Kiir.

Fighting began last week in the capital of Juba, then spread to other cities in South Sudan, the youngest country in Africa since breaking from Sudan in 2011.

Hundreds of people have been killed as a result of the dispute, according to reports. UN compounds are housing over 40,000 civilians, the Secretary-General said Sunday.

Machar is of the Nuer community while Kiir is of the majority Dinka ethnic group. Their rivalry is feared to be fuel for further conflict between the groups.

“Let me be absolutely clear,” the Secretary-General said Monday. “The world is watching all sides in South Sudan. Attacks on civilians and the UN peacekeepers deployed to protect them must cease immediately. The United Nations will investigate reports of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Those responsible at the senior level will be held personally accountable and face the consequences – even if they claim they had no knowledge of the attacks.”

United States President Barack Obama told members of Congress on Sunday that American efforts in South Sudan could be ramped up in the coming days as the security of US citizens and others in the East African nation are increasingly put at risk.

An attempted rescue mission by the US on Saturday to try and remove Americans currently residing in South Sudan was aborted after rebel fighters reportedly aligned with former Vice President Machar opened fire on US planes, injuring four.

Around 380 American citizens and around 300 others have been evacuated by the US from Juba so far, but on Sunday the President sent a letter to select congressional leaders informing them that he may advise the military to increase its efforts.

“As I monitor the situation in South Sudan, I may take further action to support the security of US citizens, personnel, and property, including our embassy, in South Sudan,” Obama wrote on Sunday.

In that same statement, the President said he had approved the deployment of around 46 additional US troops a day earlier to assist with evacuation plans. Previously, 45 more were sent to reinforce the American Embassy in Juba, but the surge meant to aid with evacuation efforts was aborted when rebels began firing at US aircraft. The four service members injured are reportedly in stable condition.