— The United States has called on African countries to send troops to South Sudan to help shore up a shaky peace deal signed last week by President Salva Kiir and his arch rival in the five-month-old conflict, Riek Machar.
The State Department's Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, made the call for African boots on the ground Wednesday during an online question and answer session with callers from around Africa.
"We have to work closely with the leaders in the region to make sure that we get IGAD troops on the ground who will be put in position so that they can monitor the agreement and ensure that anyone who is involved in breaking that agreement will be held responsible," said Thomas-Greenfield, who visited Juba two weeks ago with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has been trying since January to broker a peace deal between the warring sides in South Sudan.
A cessation of hostilities agreement signed at the end of January called for monitoring and verification teams made up of civilians and "individuals with a military background" to be deployed around the country.
The first team of monitors, who under the terms of the January 23 agreement are unarmed, was deployed at the start of last month, but fighting has continued in spite of their presence.
IGAD member states who provide members of the monitoring and verification teams have asked for a military force to be deployed to protect the monitors.
Troops in South Sudan a top US priority
Deploying the regional protection force "is one of our highest agenda items right now in dealing with South Sudan," Thomas-Greenfield said.
The United States is pushing for a U.N. resolution "that will allow these troops to deploy as quickly as possible," she said.
As Thomas-Greenfield spoke, fighting was reported in several hot spots around South Sudan including Bentiu in Unity State, and parts of Jonglei and Unity states, and the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said medical supplies were looted from hospitals in Bentiu, which is also a violation of the recent peace agreement
The conflict in South Sudan has killed thousands of people and forced more than one million from their homes.
'Famine is looming'
Thomas-Greenfield repeated a warning that has been made frequently in recent weeks by aid agencies, the United Nations, and the United States and European Union,
that unless peace is restored quickly in South Sudan, the country faces a massive humanitarian disaster.
"There is a famine that is looming if this fighting does not stop," she said.
For that reason, she said, "We have to work to ensure that the (peace) agreement takes root."