The new United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, said the U.N. is working to avoid what he calls the "worst" for South Sudan.
Speaking to reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York upon his return from the just-concluded African Union summit in Ethiopia, Guterres said his office will work to see that the conflict in South Sudan is resolved through peaceful means. He said he knows from personal experience that the people of South Sudan deserve peace.
"When I became high commissioner for refugees, my first act was to go to Uganda to celebrate World Refugee Day with South Sudanese, and we helped 500,000 South Sudanese go back home when the country was created, and a lot of hope was inspiring them," Gutteres said.
The U.N. chief added that efforts to fully implement the 2015 peace agreement would depend on the progress of an all-inclusive national dialogue announced recently by President Salva Kiir and a major international effort that involves the U.N., the African Union, and the regional trade bloc called IGAD.
"One of my objectives is to try to establish a sound mechanism of cooperation between the sub-regional organizations, IGAD, the African Union and the U.N. in order to do everything possible to avoid the worst in South Sudan and to bring the South Sudanese situation into a better track for peace," Guterres said.
He said during the AU summit in Addis Ababa that he received assurances from Kiir that the government would cooperate with a U.N.-backed Regional Protection Force of 4,000 soldiers that is supposed to help stabilize peace in the capital Juba.
The protection force had been expected to arrive in late September after being authorized by the Security Council in August, but has yet to arrive. In mid-January, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan confirmed that it was continuing talks with South Sudan's national government of transitional unity on the various modalities for the regional force, including where the troops will be deployed in Juba.
The confirmation came after media reports suggested that the government might have changed its position on the deployment of the force.
In July, a surge in fighting broke out in Juba between forces loyal to Kiir and SPLA-in-Opposition forces which support former First Vice President Riek Machar, leaving hundreds of people dead, including many civilians.