ADDIS ABABA — East African leaders will meet in Ethiopia on Thursday to discuss the mandate and size of a stabilization and protection force to be deployed in South Sudan.
Heads of State of the East African bloc IGAD - which has been mediating talks between S. Sudan’s warring sides - are now turning attention to troop deployment.
Ethiopian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Dina Mufti said the extraordinary summit is devoted just to South Sudan.
"They'll be talking about the deployment of forces to the region, which most of them have agreed to because there is going to be a deployment of African brigades from all IGAD countries plus two other non-IGAD members, Burundi and Rwanda," said Dina Mufti.
Other countries that have said they are ready to send troops to South Sudan are Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. The presence of Ugandan troops in the country - from the beginning of the conflict - has led to criticism by the opposition side and the international community that they are an obstacle to a peaceful solution. So Uganda's troops will slowly be withdrawn.
Fighting broke out in South Sudan mid-December after a dispute within the ruling SPLM. The dispute led to fighting between forces of President Salva Kirr and soldiers loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.
A January cease-fire hasn’t taken hold, so regional leaders are determining how best to reinforce the truce. Dina Mufti said they're looking at how many troops will be needed and the extent of their mandate.
"This is a kind of peacekeeping force so they are going to reinforce or realize the cessation of hostilities, they'll help that process. They'll help the monitors and the people who verify the cessation of hostilities or the ceasefire," said Dina Mufti.
After IGAD heads of state decide on the mandate and the size of the force, the African Union and the United Nations will need to give approval before the force can actually be deployed.
The conflict in South Sudan has killed thousands of people and displaced close to a million. To ensure the participation of the South Sudanese people in the peace process, a civil society conference will be held in Addis Ababa after the IGAD summit.