UN: South Sudan recruits new force, contrary to peace deal

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A new report says South Sudan’s National Security Service has recruited a force of 10,000 fighters in President Salva Kiir’s ethnic stronghold, in apparent breach of the terms of the country’s peace deal.

The report by United Nations experts monitoring sanctions on South Sudan expresses concern over the slow implementation of the fragile deal signed in September 2018 to end five years of civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people.

The report says South Sudan’s government has shown little interest in abiding by the spirit of the agreement on security and other arrangements, putting the deal in peril and posing an “immediate threat” to the country’s fragile peace.

A crucial deadline to form a coalition government was missed this month after opposition leader Riek Machar criticized slow progress in security arrangements. Machar and Kiir agreed to postpone that key step for 100 days until mid-February so security and governance issues can be resolved.

Frustrated by the delay, the United States this week announced it was recalling its ambassador to South Sudan back to Washington for consultations as the U.S. reevaluates its relationship with the country. That could mean further sanctions.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “obviously concerned about any actions that would move us away from a much‑needed peace and reconciliation in South Sudan.”

The new U.N. report says the signatories of the peace deal have made “no significant decisions” on implementing it in recent months, while the key step of creating a unified security force is “far behind schedule.” Only 7,400 government troops have been registered, compared with some 32,000 opposition fighters, far from the overall goal of 83,000.

Meanwhile, children and others have been recruited, sometimes forcefully, to create a 10,000-strong force in recent months in Kiir’s ethnic stronghold, the report says. The force is under the direct command of the National Security Service and was created after Kiir and one NSS official reportedly “convinced local Dinka elders in former Warrap state of the need to strengthen the capacity of forces loyal to them.”

The new force is “contrary to the provisions of the peace agreement,” the report says.

It also says one country that has tried to broker peace, neighboring Uganda, has violated the U.N. arms embargo on South Sudan by deploying troops last month to parts of Yei River state. It does not say how many.

The report also says both government and opposition forces “have continued to generate revenues through the illegal harvest, sale and taxation of teak and mahogany.”

South Sudan’s civil war began in late 2013, just two years after the country’s independence from Sudan, when supporters of Kiir and Machar, then his deputy, clashed. A previous peace deal fell apart amid fresh fighting in 2016 and Machar fled the country on foot.

Under the current agreement Machar would once again become Kiir’s deputy.

The Vatican earlier this month said Pope Francis and Anglican leader Justin Welby intend to visit South Sudan together if a coalition government can be formed in the next three months.


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